More investment needed for global agricultural productivity, Daschle says

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

ARLINGTON, Va., Feb. 21, 2013 - More investment in improving global agricultural productivity is necessary in the face of a growing population that requires more food and a warming climate that is eating up arable land, former Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said today in a speech at the USDA's annual Agricultural Outlook Forum.

Daschle, who now serves as senior policy advisor for DLA Piper, said while many stakeholders believe warmer temperatures could benefit agriculture, “it doesn't look that way.” He said crop yields are down between two and three percent globally, and for every one degree Celsius increase in average temperature, yields decrease by an average of five percent.

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“Climate change is projected to degrade up to a fifth of arable land in the developing world,” he said.

Daschle said there is evidence of increasing investment in the agriculture sector, but there remains a $79 billion difference annually between the current investment in low to middle income countries and what those countries need to feed their citizens.

“This level of investment won't cut it in places like Africa, where agricultural research and development has declined below recommended levels even while the population is expected to triple by the end of the century,” Daschle said, noting that as of 2008, at $3.5 billion, U.S. agricultural investments in the developing world are less than half of what it was 30 years ago.

Meanwhile, he said, China has more than doubled its investment in developing new agricultural technologies.

“Those are the kinds of far-sighted policies that are enabling China to emerge as a world power and which we, frankly, need to get back to,” Daschle said.

Daschle said the United States needs to focus on producing more, higher quality nutritious food through innovation.

He said through science-based technologies farms can innovate to handle severe weather conditions, diminishing resources, post-harvest losses, and nutritionally-insufficient crops.

For instance, he said, rural farmers can now connect to extension workers and best practices with the use of mobile technology, improving their crop yields.

“We can enhance the nutritional content of crops and food through fortification and ingredient solutions that reduce fat, salt, and sugar content,” Daschle said. “Modern irrigation and other water management practices enable farmers to more efficiently irrigate crops, reducing waste.”

Daschle also spoke of biotechnology in agriculture, noting the Africa Biofortified Sorghum project (ABS), which brought together African governments, donors, the private sector, research institutions, universities, and other African organizations. ABS is a multi-million dollar effort to biofortify sorghum with increased levels of lysine, vitamin A, iron and zinc.  

“The biofortification of this crop is significant because sorghum is the second most important cereal in Africa, but has little nutritional value,” Daschle said. “It is also uniquely suited to adapt to Africa's climate, withstanding both droughts and waterlogging. As a consequence, biofortified sorghum has the potential to improve the diets of the 500 million people in over 30 countries who rely on it as a dietary staple.”

Daschle noted that a recent study found the agriculture and ag biosciences industry is a $125 billion industry, supporting nearly 2.5 million jobs.

“Scientists are improving livestock production and bioengineering scuba rice that can survive heavy flooding,” Daschle said. “In Australia, they're experimenting with wheat that can grow in saline soils, which would actually expand our arable land. It's astonishing.”


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