Ag faces world production gap

Oct 15, 2010

The urgent need for increased global ag production was highlighted last Wednesday in a study released by the Global Harvest Initiative at the World Food Prize Symposium.

“The current rate of agricultural productivity growth is lagging the world’s expanding demands,” the Global Harvest Initiative stated in the Global Agricultural Productivity, or GAP report, developed with the Farm Foundation and USDA’s Economic Research Service.

The report quantifies for the first time the difference between the current rate of agricultural productivity growth globally and the acceleration needed to meet future population demands. Simply put, the report concludes ag production isn’t growing fast enough to meet the doubling of production that it will take to feed the world by 2050. That gap in production growth needs to be closed, especially over the next two decades when population is expected to grow the quickest.

“It’s important to realize the pressures are going to come earlier rather than later,” said Neil Conklin, president of the Farm Foundation and author of the report.

While areas of the world such as the U.S., Brazil and China have seen steadily increasing productivity gains since 1970s, much of Africa, Russia and other countries such as Australia have seen actual production declines.

To close the gap without additional land and resources, the rate of productivity growth must increase an average of 25 percent more per year over the next 40 years, Conklin added. Agriculture also will have to double production globally in the face of little potential additional land that could be put into production.

Bill Lesher, executive director of the Global Harvest Initiative, said at a luncheon releasing the report that the research points to the urgency needed in the policy arena to address how agriculture can accelerate production and do so in a sustainable way.

“Most people cannot comprehend what it might take to meet the needs of an additional 3 billion people with increased incomes,” Lesher said. “For world leaders in a position to impact policy and resource allocation to sustainably increase the rate of productivity, the GAP report provides very real data globally and regionally upon which to make informed decisions on policies and research investments.”

Lesher said the report, which will be released annually, offers a metric to monitor progress as agriculture works to double production over the next 40 years while using the same amount of land, less water and reduced inputs in the process. Perhaps the most difficult assumption is the projection that agriculture will have less water to use to increase production, due to potential global warming and increased water demands from 9 billion people who will be more urbanized.

“We’re not going to have the water resources in agriculture we have had in the past,” he said.

Lesher acknowledged, however, that the report might not have factored in the total impact that could come from projected losses in arable land in the coming decades because of climate change.

“The limits on land, water and other inputs, plus other uncertainties that come with global warming, make it a challenging situation,” Lesher said.

Lesher said the Global Harvest Initiative also has planned to focus its efforts on areas such as research, trade, private sector involvement in research and infrastructure, and streamlining development programs. He also added it’s important that policymakers understand that developing policies to boost production can’t wait for the next two decades.

“We don’t have the luxury of waiting for a crisis,” Lesher said. — Chris Clayton, DTN