Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Feeding the World

Climate change could decrease maize yields by as much as 18 per cent 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.

A new report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)  examines 11 agricultural practices and technologies and how they can 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, the Washington-based IFPRI pinpoints the agricultural technologies and practices that can most significantly reduce food insecurity in developing nations - .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 indicate that no-till farming alone can increase maize yields by 20 per cent, but also irrigating the same no-till fields can increase maize yields by 67 per cent in 2050. The report says nitrogen-use efficiency can increase rice crop yields by 22 per cent, but irrigation increases the yields by another 21 per cent. Heat-tolerant varieties of wheat can increase crop yields from a 17 per cent increase to a 23 per cent increase with irrigation. 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.

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. However, based on current projections, stacked technologies could reduce food insecurity by as much as 36 per cent. 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.

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