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Page added on April 26, 2014

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Food security: Ag’s big challenge

Food security: Ag’s big challenge thumbnail

CAN the world’s plant breeders and crop producers continue to increase food production at a pace to match a global population growth rate that is predicted to increase from the current 7.2 billion people to 9.6 billion by 2050?

That was one of the weighty questions the world’s top wheat breeders grappled with at the Borlaug international wheat summit in Mexico in March.

Imperial College London professor of international development Sir Gordon Conway told the conference that while food production currently matched population growth, the emerging middle class and changing dietary demands of developing countries were presenting new challenges to the food production sector.

“If you are just talking about feeding more people as they are being fed now we can do it. But the big challenge is that in many of the emerging countries like China, India, Brazil, Mexico and Korea their diets are changing,” he said.

“They are consuming more livestock products and that needs grain, so we will need more grain to feed them. China, for example, is producing a large amount of livestock now and is importing two-thirds of the world’s soybean market.”

Professor Conway said any advances in food production would have to be achieved in a world where good quality land and water supplies were at their limit.

“So we are going to have to produce more with less. That is the mantra for the future,” he said.

“Scientists know how to do that. But we have to intensify sustainably which means we have to use less damaging inputs like pesticides and fertiliser, reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses from agriculture, improve soil water holding capacity and make it more resilient to climate change.

“It is not just intensification we need, which will be tough enough to achieve, but we have to do it in a way that is sustainable. Sustainable intensification is the biggest challenge the world has ever seen.”

Feeding the world in the future is an issue CSIRO honorary research fellow and former director of wheat research at the CIMMYT centre in Mexico, Tony Fischer, has canvassed in a new book co-authored with Derek Byerlee and Greg Edmeades titled Crop yields and global food security: will yield increases continue to feed the world?.

Farm Weekly



22 Comments on "Food security: Ag’s big challenge"

  1. Davy, Hermann, MO on Sat, 26th Apr 2014 6:55 am 

    Article said – CAN the world’s plant breeders and crop producers continue to increase food production at a pace to match a global population growth rate that is predicted to increase from the current 7.2 billion people to 9.6 billion by 2050?

    Come on folks when will the 2050 analysis end. Seems like every food analysis I see quotes 2050. Our food insecurity is now. Like energy we cannot afford de-growth with food. The disruption to the stability of the global economy cannot have food prices or energy prices out of the goldilocks range. The global economy is dysfunctional without a narrow price range for food and energy. We are teetering there now. In a world of limits of growth facing diminishing returns with a global population in overshoot to carrying capacity the major global problems of food, energy, and water stress are turning into predicaments. Food like energy is facing stress on all fronts from input cost increases, capex decreases, soil loss/pollution, water stress, economic dysfunctions, and political instability. Food or energy will be tipping point if the finance system continues to limp along with central bank repression and a debt driven house of cards. The clock is ticking especially in a world of climate instability. If all the above mentioned problems were not enough throw in climate instability. AGW is the real danger to our global food production. Modern man was possible because of 10,000 years of relatively stable climate. No amount of technology will compensate for a stable climate. We are already in overshoot so there are little food supply reserves for any kind of food shock. The reserve stocks are the lowest in history if one puts that in a percapita prospective globally. In a global world dependent on far flung distributions and global sourcing of necessary resources a food shock will cripple the global trade structures quickly. The too important to fail economies will eventually falter when the third world countries collapsing from food insecurity eventually overwhelm the system.

  2. Kenz300 on Sat, 26th Apr 2014 7:35 am 

    Quote — “CAN the world’s plant breeders and crop producers continue to increase food production at a pace to match a global population growth rate that is predicted to increase from the current 7.2 billion people to 9.6 billion by 2050?”
    ——————————–

    Maybe the question should be —- Can the worlds endless population growth be slowed and come into balance with resources?

    Endless population growth is not sustainable and only leads to more poverty, suffering and despair.

    If you can not provide for yourself you can not provide for a child. The worlds poorest people are having the most children. They have not figured out the connection between their poverty and family size.

  3. MSN fanboy on Sat, 26th Apr 2014 10:31 am 

    Kenz… If you can not provide for yourself you can not provide for a child
    #Kenz I notice you say the same thing, again… and again. and again. etc…
    Tell me why If you can not provide for yourself you can not provide for a child?
    Appears to me human history is replete with examples of people having children and unable to provide. Almost as if most people want sex but not the after party.

  4. diemos on Sat, 26th Apr 2014 11:08 am 

    “They have not figured out the connection between their poverty and family size.”

    They have figured out that the only ones who will take care of them when they’re old are their children. So they have a lot of them.

    The fact that this will be a disaster for everybody if everybody does it does not factor in.

    See Game Theory (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_theory)

  5. GregT on Sat, 26th Apr 2014 11:12 am 

    High youth unemployment, aging demographics, stagnant wages, a ponzi schemed financial system mired in debt, double digit real inflation, rapidly rising energy costs, looming water shortages and an increasingly unstable climate.

    What could possibly go wrong for food production? Not to worry though folks, the technologists only need to wave their magic wands.

  6. farmlad on Sat, 26th Apr 2014 11:13 am 

    I get tired of all this “feeding the world talk” from the industrial ag community. It’s more like an afterthought to help with PR. I can’t emagine most farmers (which in my mind are the most noble group in ag) having there #1 focus on trying to feed as many people as possible with the most nutritious food possible. rather they are always trying to cut corners to make ends meet or to expand their opperation. they are no different than you and me.

  7. Boat on Sat, 26th Apr 2014 11:32 am 

    Davy,
    The too important to fail economies will eventually falter when the third world countries collapsing from food insecurity eventually overwhelm the system.

    Of course, do you blame the heard for the scavengers taking out the old and the young? It’s called the law of the jungle and humans are no different.

    Turning crops into fuel is one way the world has decided not to worry about the third countries to much. The rich will always have a hummer and the poorest of the poor will starve. Nothing has changed.

  8. Davey on Sat, 26th Apr 2014 12:12 pm 

    Boat not making an ethical judgement. My point is the developed economies will not last long as the third world collapses from problems of overshoot. Ethically one could say the inequlity is unjust and unfair

  9. bobinget on Sat, 26th Apr 2014 12:27 pm 

    If your life depended on a medical cure based entirely
    on a TESTED, approved, genetic engineered pharmacological product, expressly designed for your body, would you reject that medicine?
    If so, would the grounds for rejection be;
    a) Religious
    b) Political
    c) Dietary
    e) Alternative or non medical desired.

    Americans consume 250 pounds of GMO plant products annually for the last twelve years.
    (obviously, some folks consume more then others)

    If you avoid GMO plant or animal products, on what grounds?
    Religion?
    Political?
    Dietary?

    Have you another reason(s)?
    Do you know of a animal or person that has been
    harmed in any manner by the GMO element in ANY plant or animal product?

    Would you favor outlawing import or export of hybrid
    seeds? If yes, for what reason(s)?
    a) political b) religious c) non religious morality

    On what moral ground would you deny growers the ability to increase food production on marginal land?
    (using GMO seed)

    If you believe GMO products harmful, would you favor
    spreading detrimental information concerning such products without first seeking scientific conformation?

    Do you believe US governmental agencies like FDA
    are telling the entire truth or have government scientists been compromised? (concerning GMO)

    Do you believe foreign GMO opposition is politically or morally motivated?

  10. ghung on Sat, 26th Apr 2014 1:08 pm 

    @bob…
    a) political
    b) religious
    c) non religious morality

    d) GMO crops and factory-scale agriculture are utterly reliant upon an inter-connected, inter-dependent, top-down web of hyper-complex systems and subsystems that the data shows will be (are in the process of) failing. I notice you avoided this purely pragmatic reason, or didn’t consider it (not sure which is worse).

    I suppose you haven’t read, or choose to ignore such studies as Trade Off: Financial system supply-chain cross contagion – a study in global systemic collapse – David Korowicz, and numerous other similar studies/publications reaching essentially the same conclusions. Perhaps you think corporate agriculture is immune to these sorts of vulnerabilities.

    I haven’t, nor do I have any particular aversion to the use of hybrids or GMOs, other than I choose to not support monopolistic bully corporations such as Monsanto whenever possible. I, for one, prefer to hedge my bets and question those who are “all in” with progress and growth, especially those who have choices. They’ll have a tough time if they show up at my door, come hell or high water.

  11. Kenjamkov on Sat, 26th Apr 2014 1:12 pm 

    A lot of farmers (in the 3rd World) object to GMO seeds because they are terminator seeds and you have to buy them from Monsanto or Cargil every year. If you don’t agree with the price of the seed, the pesticide, or herbicide you have no choice.

    GMO seeds are great for yields, but greedy corporations design them to maximize their profits, not feed the World.

  12. DC on Sat, 26th Apr 2014 5:07 pm 

    Talk about strawman poll there bob….

    People want healthy, natural grown food to eat, end of story. There is very little ‘religious’ much less political about that. Virtually ALL objections to GMO are scientific and health-based. There are of course ones that object to corporate control over food chains which are largely economic, but virtually every objection I have heard(the good cogent ones at least) are based on science and health.

    How is it you couldn’t be bothered to mention those explicitly in your list of non-choices?

  13. Makati1 on Sat, 26th Apr 2014 8:59 pm 

    DC, GMO is a way to control the population. When most of the world is dependent on GMO seeds, the elite will have a real kill switch. One year with out any seed and billions will die. Why? because they do not breed true and may not germinate at all if kept from the previous years crops like non-GMO seed. Not to mention that it is becoming illegal to save seed in some places. Why else would such laws be put in place if not to insure complete control?

    If you have a garden, do you save your seeds from your crops or do you depend on the corporate seed companies to supply you with new every spring? Have you tried to replant seeds from those hybrids? If not, you should try. It will be an education in biology. I am buying heirloom seeds for the farm. They breed true and actually improve every year as they adapt to the local ecology. GMOs/hybrids just get more expensive.

  14. PrestonSturges on Sat, 26th Apr 2014 9:49 pm 

    >>A lot of farmers (in the 3rd World) object to GMO seeds because they are terminator seeds …

    Total bullshit

    >>because they do not breed true

    Nothing to do with GMOs

  15. farmlad on Sat, 26th Apr 2014 10:06 pm 

    So we replace a perfectly good gene in a corn plant with a gene that will produce the BT toxin in every cell of that plant, and grain, so that the corn borer worm that eats the corn plant is killed by having its intestines perforated by the BT toxin. At the same time the cases of Food Allergies, Celiac Disease, Autism, and other Autoimmune Diseases are going through the roof and the common denominator in all these diseases I mentioned is, perforated intestines.
    The other most common genetic modification in corn, soya,cotton, sugar beets, and canola is to take out another perfectly good gene and insert one that will give the plant the ability to tolerate an application of Roundup. Notice I used the word tolerate, because the plant still suffers from the herbicide application it just doesn’t get killed by it. in AG they call it yield drag. Roundup is not just a weed killer. The first patent for Glyphosate ‘the active ingredient in Roundup’ was as a broad spectrum chelator. It ties up the nutrients in the soil with positive ions like calcium, zinc, boron, etc, and its halflife in the soil can be up to 30 + years. It also has potent antimicrobial and anti fungal properties, which makes it a lot harder for the beneficial(or should I say essential) biology, to thrive in the soil. The levels of Glyphosate in our drinking water has most likely increased exponentially in the last 20 years as evidenced by the EPA having to increase the level considered safe by 200x. So most likely its having a profound and negative effect on our own gut flora.
    furthermore I am not aware of any genetic modification that has been shown to increase production or a better nutrient profile,compared to its conventional equivalent. Nada, Zero.
    Where I really have a problem is that the cat is now out of the bag. How could they take such huge risks for such tiny gains. Now that these genes are out with the possible problems, we have no way to ever eradicate them, this corn has freely polinated with and contaminated our other corn varieties, so that now even the USDA organic rule allows a certain level of GM contamination. and they are not stopping, within the last 2 years a GM wheat was discovered that had “accidently” contaminated an area.
    So now; our government just stands behind whatever the industry deems to be safe. The same companies that told us DDT, and Agent Orange, are safe.

  16. Makati1 on Sun, 27th Apr 2014 1:21 am 

    Preston, do you work for big ag? Sounds like it or you have no education in biology.

  17. FriedrichKling on Sun, 27th Apr 2014 2:42 am 

    Kenz-

    His message is spot on, but the message is not getting through so it is important to reiterate the message.

    Thank you, Kenz!

  18. Davy, Hermann, MO on Sun, 27th Apr 2014 7:32 am 

    Farmlad, yea, I had a 1000 acre corn and soybean farm right when roundup was taking off. I liked the idea of it in the beginning. The previous herbicides were very harsh and more expensive. So in the late 90’s it seemed like a bright future. After 4 years out got out of industrial AG. As a tree hugger type I thought I could get into production ag and change the approach to a more environmentally centric activity. I was naïve and received a lesson in business and economics. My main activity became a struggle to make ends meet. I never lost money but I never made enough to make ends meet. I was able to get out without a loss but no money was made. I did stress my sanity. I am now in permaculture grass fed cattle, garden, chickens, forestry, and wildlife enhancement. I feel great about what I am doing. I feel for the family farmers that have no choice but to go corporate. They world sometimes work two jobs with the wife working in town. Times are better now but the industry has always cycled. I wonder how it will be when inputs are in shortage and crops don’t get planted.

  19. PrestonSturges on Sun, 27th Apr 2014 8:41 am 

    >>>DC, GMO is a way to control the population. When most of the world is dependent on GMO seeds, the elite will have a real kill switch. One year with out any seed and billions will die.

    Wow the isn’t anyone mentioning autism yet and how GMOs cause autism and raw milk cures it? What about UFOs?

    The anti-GMO movement has sunk to the bottom of the barrel with the Alex Jones black helicopter, Agenda 21, HAARP conspiracy nuts. I’m not sure if that means its getting worse or getting better.

  20. bobinget on Sun, 27th Apr 2014 10:34 am 

    Fascinating, GMO is panned from BOTH Left and Right.

    Not one opinion on my family health question.
    Apparently, when it come to personal survival it’s ‘no agnostics in the trenches’. Okay, maybe genuine science Should be off the table on emotional issues like diet. Next time I’ll try to stay on topic. (title of this article: “AG’s Big Challenge”)

    With 110 million acres in 17 countries in GMO, it might be time to have a reasoned debate. This obviously is not the venue. One pertinent, final remark: GMO saves diesel fuel. Ask any farmer what’s her biggest expense, besides loan service and she will tell you, fuels. Unlike Seeds, used diesel cannot be recycled for next years plantings.

    Anti GMO folks win either way. When patents were issued for one season only GMO cotton seeds, (Delta Land and Pine) environmentalists and anti intellectual
    property laws (all software should be free to all) went into high gear and quashed the practice of “Terminator” seeds. Now, the same people complain
    farmers can’t legally save seed. Not content, another group complains in GMO accidentally pollinates neighboring crops making them valueless.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_plant_breeding

  21. Davey on Sun, 27th Apr 2014 11:12 am 

    Bob, you are leaving out one important point and that is roundup effectiveness is dropping so he we now have superweeds making the challenge of weed control more expensive with few alternatives but the old school herbicides. We are seeing the same issues with antibiotics. The range of these superweeds is still small but when they establish the expand their range quickly.

  22. PrestonSturges on Sun, 27th Apr 2014 11:27 am 

    Just for the record, “terminator” seeds were never sold. that debate was 25 years ago, but activists are still yapping about this thing that never happened 25 years ago.

    >>Anti GMO folks win either way.

    Exactly – here’s another example of the “Head I win, tails you lose” crap – if there were “terminator” seeds, they wouldn’t have the problem of cross contamination. We have contamination because Greenpeace demanded contamination. It just goes on and on.

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