New study identifies most promising agricultural tools for feeding the world’s poorest
February 12, 2014, Washington D.C.–Increased demand for food due to population and income growth and the impacts of climate change on agriculture will ratchet up the pressure for increased and more sustainable agricultural production to feed the planet. A new report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) measures the impacts of agricultural innovation on farm productivity, prices, hunger, and trade flows as we approach 2050 and identifies practices which could significantly benefit developing nations.
The book, Food Security in a World of Natural Resource Scarcity: The Role of Agricultural Technologies, released today, examines 11 agricultural practices and technologies and how they could help farmers around the world improve the sustainability of growing three of the world’s main staple crops – maize, rice, and wheat.
Using a first-of-its-kind data model, IFPRI pinpoints the agricultural technologies and practices that can most significantly reduce food prices and food insecurity in developing nations. The study profiles 11 agricultural innovations: crop protection, drip irrigation, drought tolerance, heat tolerance, integrated soil fertility management, no-till farming, nutrient use efficiency, organic agriculture, precision agriculture, sprinkler irrigation, and water harvesting.
Findings from the book indicate:
- No-till farming alone could increase maize yields by 20 percent, but also irrigating the same no-till fields could increase maize yields by 67 percent in 2050.
- Nitrogen-use efficiency could increase rice crop yields by 22 percent, but irrigation increased the yields by another 21 percent.
- Heat-tolerant varieties of wheat could increase crop yields from a 17 percent increase to a 23 percent increase with irrigation.
Yet, no single silver bullet exists. “The reality is that no single agricultural technology or farming practice will provide sufficient food for the world in 2050,” said Mark Rosegrant, lead author of the book and director of IFPRI’s Environment and Production Technology Division. “Instead we must advocate for and utilize a range of these technologies in order to maximize yields.”
However, it is realistic to assume that farmers in the developing world and elsewhere would adopt a combination of technologies as they become more widely available. If farmers were to stack agricultural technologies in order of crop production schedules, the combination of agricultural technologies and practices could reduce food prices by up to 49 percent for maize, up to 43 percent for rice, and 45 percent for wheat due to increased crop productivity. The technologies with the highest percentage of potential impact for agriculture in developing countries include no-till farming, nitrogen-use efficiency, heat-tolerant crops, and crop protection from weeds, insects, and diseases.
The anticipated negative effects of climate change on agricultural productivity as well as projected population growth by 2050, suggest that food insecurity and food prices will increase. For example, climate change could decrease maize yields by as much as 18 percent by 2050–making it even more difficult to feed the world if farmers cannot adopt agricultural technologies that could help boost food production in their regions.
“One of the most significant barriers to global food security is the high cost of food in developing countries,” Rosegrant explained. “Agricultural technologies used in combinations tailored to the crops grown and regional differences could make more food more affordable – especially for those at risk of hunger and malnutrition in developing countries.”
However, based on current projections, stacked technologies could reduce food insecurity by as much as 36 percent. Making this a reality, however, depends on farmers gaining access to these technologies and learning how to use them. This underscores the need for improved agricultural education to ensure that farmers are able to use the best available technologies for their region and resources.
IFPRI highlights three key areas for investments prioritizing effective technology use:
- Increasing crop productivity through enhanced investment in agricultural research
- Developing and using resource-conserving agricultural management practices such as no-till farming, integrated soil fertility management, improved crop protection, and precision agriculture
- Increasing investment in irrigation
Adopting the technologies examined in the study would increase food production and improve food security under climate change.
The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) seeks sustainable solutions for ending hunger and poverty. IFPRI was established in 1975 to identify and analyze alternative national and international strategies and policies for meeting the food needs of the developing world, with particular emphasis on low-income countries and on the poorer groups in those countries. It is a member of the CGIAR Consortium. www.ifpri.org
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