March 29, 2010 / 8:12 PM / 9 years ago

Science alone not enough to boost world farm output

MONTPELLIER, France (Reuters) - Feeding a fast-growing global population in the face of climate change and stagnant funding for food aid and farm research will require a fundamental revamp of agriculture, agricultural experts said.

The sun sets behind the Canadian Rocky Mountains as wheat farmer Glenn Sawyer harvests his crop of wheat near Acme, Alberta, September 23, 2009. REUTERS/Todd Korol

But unlike the “Green Revolution” that dramatically hiked agricultural output in Latin America and Asia from the 1950s, a new agricultural restructuring will need to focus as much on new seed varieties as on good governance, women’s empowerment and things like curbing commodities speculation, they added.

“We cannot address world food security risks effectively only through a science and technology agenda,” Joachim von Braun, former director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), told a conference Sunday.

“We need to get appropriate market regulations to prevent excessive speculation,” he added on the opening day of the conference held in southern France to discuss a roadmap to reform agricultural research to meet development goals.

Speculation in food markets contributes to fuelling price swings that can undercut the ability of farmers to plan, often leading them to over or under-produce.

The lack of political support and financial resources for agricultural research are also among the biggest problems holding back efforts to boost farm output and feed more than a billion hungry people in the world, said Jacques Diouf, director general of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“We have the programs, we have the projects, we have the knowledge... We have everything we need but political will,” he said, adding there were signs things were changing.

“We have realized the problem of food security is not only a technical, economic, ethical problem. It’s a problem of peace and security in the world.”


By 2050, the world’s population is expected to surge to more than 9 million from of 6.3 billion now, so agricultural output will need to grow by 70 percent to feed those people, according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

But the world will face dramatic challenges in achieving this target, warned experts at the conference.

Investment in agricultural research has stagnated or fallen around most of the globe for decades, and growth in crucial crops like rice has leveled off, experts said, adding high national debt, in part as a result of the global financial crisis, made boosts in donor aid for research unlikely.

Climate change also is bringing more unpredictable weather, including worsening droughts, floods and storms. Those stresses could slash agricultural production in the world’s hungriest regions in Africa and South Asia, and exacerbate existing problems like overuse of aquifers, desertification and erosion.

“Climate change will make an already deteriorating situation worse,” said IFAD spokesman Kevin Cleaver.

Reversing the problems, he and others said, will require a diverse host of changes, such as curbing rich-world agricultural subsidies, ensuring small farmers have rights to their land, building databases to help coordinate research efforts, and finding new sources of funding for agricultural research.

(Laurie Goering is an editor at AlertNet, a service of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which aims at alerting humanitarians to emergencies)

(Editing by James Jukwey)

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