A sustainability gap needing to be filled by farm innovation

posted in: Syndicated | 6

Global Harvest Initiative GAP report 2010

A new report has come out which explains why agricultural innovation is important for conserving resources and benefiting the global environment.
It does this by showing that we need improvements in what economists call total factor productivity of agriculture to meet the demands on the farm output that will rise considerably by the year 2050. To do this without increasing usage of inputs like water we need to increase the economic productivity of agriculture which is measured by a number called total factor productivity (TFP). The graph from the report shown here shows the gap between current improvements in agricultural productivity and the productivity needed to raise farm output by 200% in the year 2050 without increasing net farm demand on resources.

There is a gap on this graph between necessary productivity improvement and actual current improvement rate,  which means we have to dramatically increase the productivity of global agriculture by numerous innovative approaches if we are going to avoid massive expansion of water and other farm input useage by  over the coming decades.

A key passage from this new report, the 2010 GAP Report, follows:

An Evergreen Revolution
Simply put, the challenge is on the scale of supporting an “Evergreen Revolution” that is longer in duration and “greener” than the last. It will take innovations like those that spurred the remarkable increases in productivity in the “Green Revolution” of the 1970s and 1980s, which averaged a staggering 2.2 percent growth in output per year. Yet this new “Evergreen Revolution” must endeavor to do more with less, in terms of natural resources and other inputs.
Increasing annual TFP growth from 1.4 percent to 1.75 percent may not seem like a big challenge. However, it takes years to reap the returns of investments in the infrastructure and research required to increase productivity. Failure to begin now could well mean that the gap will not be closed by 2050.
Achieving the goal will require meaningful innovation that leads to heightened, scalable productivity in every facet of agriculture. Central challenges that must be overcome to sustainably meet the world’s demands of agriculture for food, feed, fiber, fuel, and other uses include:

  • Dramatically increasing the efficiency of water utilization, including the development of drought-tolerant crops.
  • Focusing on sustainable use of croplands.
  • Maximizing yields through scientific advancements in cropping and livestock systems.
  • Improving nutrient utilization.
  • Raising human labor productivity with mechanization.
  • Improving utilization of feedstuffs by livestock.
  • Improving food system infrastructure and processing to benefit agricultural products distribution and minimize waste.

While great, the challenge is achievable. There is promise. Modern, productive agriculture has many new innovations in the pipeline. However, more must be done. With the right combination of tools and incentives, as well as both public and private sector investments around the globe beginning now, agriculture will be poised to close the global productivity gap and sustainably meet the world’s needs in 2050.

(Global Harvest Initiative GAP report 2010)

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David Tribe is an applied geneticist, teaching graduate/undergrad courses in food science, food safety, biotechnology and microbiology at the University of Melbourne.