WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb. 12, 2014 – Countries around the globe must increase investment in agricultural research and irrigation and improve farm-management practices to feed a world population that’s expected to swell by 2 billion people, or almost 30 percent, by mid-century, according to a new study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
Compared to 2005, consumer demand for meat will surge by 80 percent by 2050, grain demand will jump by 52 percent and demand for roots and tubers will rise by 40 percent, the study found. Obstacles to increased production include dwindling supplies of water, arable land and other natural resources and erratic weather patterns caused by climate change.
“It’s clear we have to act quickly,” Mark Rosegrant, the study’s lead author, said at a conference in Washington, D.C., where the report was released. “Inaction would be negative for the planet’s future.” Rosegrant is the director of the IFPRI’s Environment and Production Technology Division.
Among the technologies the study recommends for improving yields for three major crops – maize, rice and wheat -- are no-till farming and the use of heat-tolerant and nitrogen-efficient crop varieties. No-till farming could boost yields for maize and wheat by 16 percent. Using heat-tolerant varieties could raise maize yields by the same percentage, the study found. Nitrogen-efficient varieties would give rice yields the biggest jump, 20 percent. Irrigating these same fields could dramatically raise yields on all three crops.
Other recommended technologies include use of precision agriculture and products that protect crops against diseases, weeds, insects and drought.
Adopting these technologies could cut food prices in developing countries almost in half by mid-century while reducing the number of food-insecure people by millions, the study said.
Still, as IFPRI said in a news release, “no silver bullet exists.”
“The reality is that no single agricultural technology or farming practice will provide sufficient food for the world in 2050,” Rosegrant said. “Instead we must advocate for and utilize a range of these technologies in order to maximize yields.”
Organic farming would have little or no effect on yields for major crops, Rosegrant said, adding that organics could play a role in niche markets for certain fruits and vegetable.
He also said the study was “agnostic” on the use of genetically-modified crops and that it would have been impossible to quantify the effect of such crops on global production because of current regulations limiting their use. He said he suspects they will eventually make a “significant contribution.”
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