Innovation is key for food security
World Food Day The United Nations has celebrated World Food Day for more than 70 years. This year’s theme “Climate is changing: Food and agriculture must too” perfectly fits the challenges and the opportunities we face in agriculture today. The question is, how do we respond to them all?
The UN estimates that nearly 800 million people suffer from hunger. While many of us in the developed world may be removed from their daily struggle, we are all bound together in the global food challenge. By 2050, the world is expected to add 3 billion more people who need nourishment. Coupled with climate variability and evolving pest and disease pressures, we know that maintaining the status quo in agriculture is not an option for a sustainable future.
Fortunately, we have a blueprint to guide us. When population growth raised concerns of a global famine in the 1960s, Dr. Norman Borlaug led the Green Revolution by introducing modern agricultural practices to developing countries – saving an estimated one billion people from starvation. Fifty years later, we know that further innovation is crucial to address agriculture’s challenges.
Advances in innovation have enabled farmers to continue the trend toward higher yields and more sustainable growing practices. For example, in 1950, the average US farm fed 25 people. Using integrated technologies and best management practices, the average farm today feeds 155 people.
Increasing crop yields is essential, but this alone is not enough. The UN estimates that agricultural production must rise by 60% to meet the future food demand. However, as most of the suitable farmland is already under cultivation, growth can only come from innovative practices that glean more from each acre – without disrupting the natural resources and biodiversity so essential to sustain it for future generations.
Enhancing crop productivity and environmental sustainability at the same time is a big challenge, but this can be achieved by combining advances in science with the systematic application of good agricultural practices that also respect local culture and traditions. Innovations in biological, chemical and data sciences will help bring more customized solutions to meet the needs of all farmers, both large and small. By increasing yields and reducing their ecological footprint, farmers will earn a more sustainable return on their investment and consumers will benefit from more safe, nutritious and affordable food.
Science and technology have revolutionized today’s agriculture. In industrialized countries very few people are needed to work the land precisely because of these advances. But, in the developing world, hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers must work in a field to survive and many of them suffer from poverty. If we are to achieve the dreams of Dr. Borlaug, we can only do so in a world where all can enjoy the benefits innovation has to offer.
And the World Food Day is a timely reminder that we still have a long way to go.