Crop yields no longer keeping up with population growth

Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com
June 26, 2013



If the world is to grow enough food for the projected global population in 2050, agricultural productivity will have to rise by at least 60%, and may need to more than double, according to researchers who have studied global crop yields.

They say that productivity is not rising fast enough at present to meet the likely demands on agriculture.

The researchers studied yields of four key staple crops—maize, rice, wheat and soybeans—and found they were increasing by only about 0.9% to 1.6% a year. That would lead to an overall increase of about 38% to 67% by 2050, which would only be enough to feed the population if the lower end of the estimate of yields needed and the maximum yield increase turns out to be the case.

It also does not take into account other factors, such as climate change, which the World Bank said this week could lead to massive food shortages in many areas as soon as the 2030s.

The study's findings are also likely to fuel debate over the efficacy of genetically modified crops, which some scientists have argued may be needed in future to feed the rapidly growing global population, which is expected to reach at least 9 billion by 2050.

Deepak Ray, who led the new research, said that some countries were faring far worse than others. For instance, in Guatemala, the productivity of the maize agriculture is declining, while the population is growing.

The slow increase in agricultural productivity around the world stands in marked contrast to the "green revolution" that led to a huge increase in crop yields in Asia in the 1960s to 1970s, with the widespread use of new artificial fertilizers, pesticides and growing techniques. The green revolution enabled high population growth and sparked unprecedented economic growth in many Asian countries. Signs that its effects have petered out could be a warning that future population growth may be harder to accommodate.

There is also a danger that large swathes of pristine land—including forests—could be cleared for agriculture to compensate for the slow growth in yields, with potentially damaging effects on the climate and on ecosystems. Fertile agricultural land is at a premium in most countries, and overuse, water scarcity and soil degradation are taking further tolls.

However, the authors of the study only examined crop yields—they emphasized that there should be other ways to improve the world's food supply, including increasing efficiency and cutting the massive waste of food that takes place in both developed and developing countries.

Jon Foley, co-author of the paper, said: "Clearly, the world faces a looming agricultural crisis, with yield increases insufficient to keep up with projected demands. The good news is, opportunities exist to increase production through more efficient use of current arable lands and increased yield growth rates by spreading best management practices. If we are to boost production in these key crops to meet projected needs, we have no time to waste."



Rice fields in Lao PDR. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Rice fields in Lao PDR. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.



Original Post: Growth in crop yields inadequate to feed the world by 2050 – research













Related articles

Fertility in Africa could push world population over 11 billion

(06/13/2013) The global population could grow by another 4 billion people by the end of the century if fertility rates in Africa don't decline, according to a new report by the United Nations. Currently around 1.1 billion people live on the continent, but that number could skyrocket to 4.2 billion (a 380 percent increase) by 2100, causing global population to hit 11 billion.


Solving 'wicked problems': ten principles for improved environmental management

(06/23/2013) As agriculture continues to expand at the expense of forests in the tropics, humanity struggles to meet environmental protection goals. Despite global efforts towards sustainable agriculture and some progress towards the gazetting of protected areas, there are as yet no general and effective solutions for meeting both conservation goals and food needs, and thus the loss and degradation of natural habitats continues. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has estimated a 70% increase in food production will be needed by 2050 to feed a population that will exceed 9 billion. How can such food production be met in ways that conserve the environment while also alleviating poverty?


New York City may mandate composting of food scraps to cut garbage bill

(06/18/2013) The mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, is preparing to roll out a new composting plan for the city, aimed at diverting some of the 100,000 tons of food scraps that ends up in landfill every year.







CITATION:
Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (June 26, 2013).

Crop yields no longer keeping up with population growth.

http://news.mongabay.com/2013/0626-gen-crop-yields.html