Monday, 9 August 2010

Sustainable intensification has become the priority of many agricultural research agencies

July 28th edition of the journal Nature . The Nature reports explore the vital role of advancing and disseminating useful agricultural practices and technologies, including but hardly limited to genetically modified crops, but also the simple reality that poverty is the main source of hunger now, not a lack of food. A central theme is efficiency, getting higher yields on small plots with fewer inputs of water and fertilizer. There’s a nice downloadable summary poster of some of the main findings.
The journal also points out the glaring lack of government investment in basic research and development on agriculture, a remarkable parallel to the other area of science that sees scant government investment despite its importance in the next few decades —  energy. This Nature graph says it all:
Here are just a few of the bullet points:
1. Where the hungry people are
In 2009, more than 1 billion people went undernourished — their food intake regularly providing less than minimum energy requirements — not because there isn’t enough food, but because people are too poor to buy it. At least 30 percent of food goes to waste. Although  the highest rates of hunger are in sub-Saharan Africa — tracking closely with poverty — most of the world’s undernourished people are in Asia.
2. Hunger isn’t going away
The percentage of hungry people in the developing world had been dropping for decades even though the number of hungry worldwide barely dipped. But  the food price crisis in 2008 reversed these decades of gains.
3. It’s not about the bomb
Scientists long feared a great population boom that would stress food production, but population growth is slowing and should plateau by 2050 as family size in almost all poorer countries falls to roughly 2.2 children per family. Even as population has risen,  the overall availability of calories per person has increased, not decreased. Producing enough food in the future is possible, but doing so without drastically sapping other resources, particularly water, will be difficult.
4. And it’s not about land
An outlook published in 2009 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ( says that current cropland could be more than doubled by adding 1.6 billion hectares — mostly from Latin America and Africa — without impinging on land needed for forests, protected areas or urbanization. But Britain’s Royal Society has advised against substantially increasing cultivated land, arguing that this would damage ecosystems and biodiversity ( Instead, it backs “sustainable intensification,” which has become the priority of many agricultural research agencies.