How to Feed a Hungry World #hunger #food #FAO

‘Nature’ special issue: How to Feed a Hungry World
– Editorial, Nature, July 29, 2010 v 466, p531-532

Full issue at
Producing enough food for the world’s population in 2050 will be easy. But doing it at an acceptable cost to the planet will depend on research into everything from high-tech seeds to low-tech farming practices.
With the world’s population expected to grow from 6.8 billion today to 9.1 billion by 2050, a certain Malthusian alarmism has set in: how will all these extra mouths be fed? The world’s population more than doubled from 3 billion between 1961 and 2007, yet agricultural output kept pace and current projections (see page 546) suggest it will continue to do so. Admittedly, climate change adds a large degree of uncertainty to projections of agricultural output, but that just underlines the importance of monitoring and research to refine those predictions. That aside, in the words of one official at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the task of feeding the world’s population in 2050 in itself seems easily possible.

Easy, that is, if the world brings into play swathes of extra land, spreads still more fertilizers and pesticides, and further depletes already scarce groundwater supplies. But clearing hundreds of millions of hectares of wildlands most of the land that would be brought into use is in Latin America and Africa while increasing today’s brand of resource-intensive, environmentally destructive agriculture is a poor option. Therein lies the real challenge in the coming decades: how to expand agricultural output massively without increasing by much the amount of land used.

What is needed is a second green revolution an approach that Britain’s Royal Society aptly describes as the sustainable intensification of global agriculture. Such a revolution will require a wholesale realignment of priorities in agricultural research. There is an urgent need for new crop varieties that offer higher yields but use less water, fertilizers or other inputs created, for example, through long-neglected research on modifying roots (see page 552) and for crops that are more resistant to drought, heat, submersion and pests. Equally crucial is lower-tech research into basics such as crop rotation, mixed farming of animals and plants on smallholder farms, soil management and curbing waste. (Between one-quarter and one-third of the food produced worldwide is lost or spoiled.)

Developing nations could score substantial gains in productivity by making better use of modern technologies and practices. But that requires money: the FAO estimates that to meet the 2050 challenge, investment throughout the agricultural chain in the developing world must double to US$83 billion a year. Most of that money needs to go towards improving agricultural infrastructure, from production to storage and processing. In Africa, the lack of roads also hampers agricultural productivity, making it expensive and difficult for farmers to get synthetic fertilizers. And research agendas need to be focused on the needs of the poorest and most resource-limited countries, where the majority of the world’s population lives and where population growth over the next decades will be greatest. Above all, reinventing farming requires a multidisciplinary approach that involves not just biologists, agronomists and farmers, but also ecologists, policy-makers and social scientists.

To their credit, the world’s agricultural scientists are embracing such a broad view. In March, for example, they came together at the first Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development in Montpellier, France, to begin working out how to realign research agendas to help meet the needs of farmers in poorer nations. But these plans will not bear fruit unless they get considerably more support from policy-makers and funders.

The growth in public agricultural-research spending peaked in the 1970s and has been withering ever since. Today it is largely flat in rich nations and is actually decreasing in some countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where food needs are among the greatest. The big exceptions are China, where spending has been exponential over the past decade, and, to a lesser extent, India and Brazil. These three countries seem set to become the key suppliers of relevant science and technology to poorer countries. But rich countries have a responsibility too, and calls by scientists for large increases in public spending on agricultural research that is more directly relevant to the developing world are more than justified.

The private sector also has an important part to play. In the past, agribiotechnology companies have focused mostly on the lucrative agriculture markets in rich countries, where private-sector research accounts for more than half of all agricultural research. Recently, however, they have begun to engage in publicprivate partnerships to generate crops that meet the needs of poorer countries. This move mirrors the emergence more than a decade ago of public partnerships with drug companies to tackle a similar market failure: the development of drugs and vaccines for neglected diseases. As such, it is welcome, and should be greatly expanded (see page 548).

Genetically modified (GM) crops are an important part of the sustainable agriculture toolkit, alongside traditional breeding techniques. But they are not a panacea for world hunger, despite many assertions to the contrary by their proponents. In practice, the first generation of GM crops has been largely irrelevant to poor countries. Overstating these benefits can only increase public distrust of GM organisms, as it plays to concerns about the perceived privatization and monopolization of agriculture, and a focus on profits.

Nor are science and technology by themselves a panacea for world hunger. Poverty, not lack of food production, is the root cause. The world currently has more than enough food, but some 1 billion people still go hungry because they cannot afford to pay for it. The 2008 food crisis, which pushed around 100 million people into hunger, was not so much a result of a food shortage as of a market volatility with causes going far beyond supply and demand that sent prices through the roof and sparked riots in several countries. Economics can hit food supply in other ways. The countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development pay subsidies to their farmers that total some US$1 billion a day. This makes it very difficult for farmers in developing nations to gain a foothold in world markets.

Nonetheless, research can have a decisive impact by enabling sustainable and productive agriculture a proven recipe (as is treating neglected diseases) for creating a virtuous circle that lifts communities out of poverty.

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What’s wrong with GM food?

Fussy Eaters – What’s Wrong With GM Food?
– Jonathan Jones. BBC, July 6, 2010

With the world’s food security facing a looming “perfect storm”, GM food crops need to be part of the solution, argues Professor Jonathan Jones. In this week’s Green Room, he wonders why there is such a fuss about biotechnology when it can help deliver a sustainable global food system. (In the US, where many processed foods contain ingredients derived from GM maize or soy, in the most litigious society in history, nobody has sued for a GM health problem)

A billion humans do not have enough to eat. Water resources are limited, energy costs are rising, the cultivatable land is already mostly cultivated, and climate change could hit productive areas hard. We need a sustainable intensification of agriculture to increase production by 50% by 2030 – but how?

Food security requires solutions to many diverse problems. In the US or Europe, improved seeds could increase yields by 10% or more, reduce pesticide use and give “more crop per drop”.

However, improved seeds can only help impoverished African farmers if they also have reliable water supply, roads to take crops to market, and (probably most important) fertiliser. Better farming methods are also part of the solution; these require investment in technology and people. Fortunately, after 25 years of “food complacency”, policymakers are taking the issue seriously again.

I want to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture while maintaining food supply. The best thing we can do is cultivate less land, leaving more for wildlife, but if we are still to produce enough food, yields must go up. There are many contributors to yield; water, fertiliser, farming practice, and choice of seed.

‘Simple method’
We can improve crop variety performance by both plant breeding (which gets better every year with new genetic methods), and by genetic modification (GM).
Ouch; yuck – GM. Did you recoil from those letters? Why? I started making GM plants (petunias, as it happens) in 1983, working at a long defunct agbiotech company in California called Advanced Genetic Sciences.

In the early 80s, we did wonder about – in Rumfeldspeak – “unknown unknowns; the unknowns we didn’t know we didn’t know about”, but 27 years later, nothing alarming has been seen. The method (GM is a method not a thing) is simple.

We take a plant, which typically carries about 30,000 genes, and add a few additional genes that confer insect resistance, or herbicide resistance, or disease resistance, or more efficient water use, or improved human nutrition, or less polluting effluent from animals that eat the grain, or more efficient fertiliser uptake, or increased yield. We could even (heck, why not?) do all of the above to the same plant.

The result is increased yield, decreased agrochemical use and reduced environmental impact of agriculture. In commercial GM, many hundreds of independent introductions of the desired new gene (the “transgene”) are made, each in a different individual plant that is selected and tested. Most lines are discarded. To be commercialised, a line must carry a simple, stable and well-defined gene insertion, and show heritable and effective transgene function, with no deleterious effects on the plant.

Growing demand
GM is the most rapidly adopted, benign, effective new technology for agriculture in my lifetime. Fourteen million farmers grow GM crops on 135 million hectares; these numbers increased by about 10% per year over the past decade, and this rate of growth continues. More than 200,000 tonnes of insecticide have not been applied, thanks to built-in insect resistance in Bt crops; how could anyone think that’s a bad thing?

Bt maize is safer to eat because of lower levels of mycotoxins from fungi that enter the plant’s grains via the holes made by corn-borer feeding; no insects, no holes, no fungal entry, no toxins in our food. There are not enough fish in the sea to provide us all with enough omega 3 fatty acids in our diet, but we can now modify oilseeds to make this nutrient in crops on land.

Protection from rootworm means maize crops capture more water and fertiliser, so less is wasted. Farmers must always control weeds; herbicide tolerant (HT) soy makes this easier, and has enabled replacement of water-polluting persistent herbicides with the more benign and rapidly inactivated glyphosate. HT soy has enabled wider low-till agriculture, reducing CO2 emissions.

And yet in Europe, we seem stuck in a time warp. Worldwide, 135 million hectares of GM crops have been planted; yet in Norfolk, I needed to spend £30,000 of taxpayers’ money to provide security for a field experiment with 192 potato plants, carrying one or another of a disease resistance gene from a wild relative of potato. It boggles the mind. What are people afraid of?

‘Wishful thinking’
Some fear the domination of the seed industry by multinationals, particularly Monsanto.
We need smart, sustainable, sensitive science and technology, and we need to use every tool in our toolbox, including GM Monsanto is certainly the most determined and successful agbiotech company. In their view, they had to be; they bet the company on agbiotech because unlike their rivals (who also sell nylon or agrichemicals) they had nothing else to fall back on.

But monopoly is bad for everyone. Here’s a part solution; deregulate GM. If it costs more than $20m (£13m) to get regulatory approval for one transgene, lots of little GM-based solutions to lots of problems will be too expensive and therefore not deployed, and the public sector and small start-up companies will not make the contribution they could. Never before has such excessive regulation been created in response to (still) purely hypothetical risks.

The cost of this regulation – demanded by green campaigners – has bolstered the monopoly of the multinationals. This is a massive own-goal and has postponed the benefits to the environment and to us all.

Some fear GM food is bad for health. There are no data that support this view. In the US, where many processed foods contain ingredients derived from GM maize or soy, in the most litigious society in history, nobody has sued for a GM health problem.

Some fear GM is bad for the environment. But in agriculture, idealism does not solve problems. Farmers need “least bad” solutions; they do not have the luxury of insisting on utopian solutions.

It is less bad to control weeds with a rapidly inactivated herbicide after the crop germinates, than to apply more persistent chemicals beforehand. It is less bad to have the plant make its own insecticidal protein, than to spray insecticides. It is better to maximise the productivity of arable land via all kinds of sustainable intensification, than to require more land under the plough because of reduced yields.

Some say GM is high risk, but they cannot tell you what the risk is. Some say GM is causing deforestation in Brazil, even though if yields were less, more deforestation would be required to meet Chinese and European demand for animal feed.

Some say we do not need GM blight resistant potatoes to solve the £3.5bn per year problem of potato blight, because blight resistant varieties have been bred. But if these varieties are so wonderful, how come farmers spend £500 per hectare on spraying to protect blight sensitive varieties? The answer is the market demands varieties such as Maris Piper, so we need to make them blight resistant.

I used to be a member of a green campaign group. They still have campaigns I support (sustainable fishing, save the rainforests, fight climate change), but on GM, they are simply wrong.

Even activists of impeccable green credentials, such as Stewart Brand, see the benefits of GM. Wishful thinking will not feed the planet without destroying it. Instead, we need smart, sustainable, sensitive science and technology, and we need to use every tool in our toolbox, including GM.

Professor Jonathan Jones is senior scientist for The Sainsbury Laboratory, based at the John Innes Centre, a research centre in plant and microbial science

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GM Plantings Explode in Australia!

Stock & Land (Australia)
By Gregor Heard
July 8, 2010

THE advent of commercialised genetically modified (GM) canola cropping in Western Australia in 2010 has seen the national GM canola acreage more than treble, according to Australian Oilseeds Federation (AOF) estimates.
And although it is the first year of production in WA, the west already makes up over 50pc of the acreage.

There will be 72,790ha of GM canola in WA out of a national total of 133,330ha, grown in WA, Victoria and NSW, with the latter two states in their third year producing Roundup Ready (RR) canola.

Based on the AOF’s June production estimates, GM plantings will make up around 8pc of the total canola crop of around 1.61 million hectares.

Victoria will be the second largest producer, growing 36,500ha and NSW is estimated to be planting 24,040ha.

The big increase in plantings is being seen as a win for the technology, according to its developers, in spite of the fact the overall canola plantings are also up 15pc, due to a combination of pricing opportunities and favourable seasonal conditions.

On a related note, USDA’s planted acreage report shows another increase in the use of biotech seed varieties. USDA estimates 93 percent of the US soybean acreage was planted with biotech varieties, up from 91 percent a year ago. Corn biotech varieties were planted on 86 percent of this year’s acreage, up from 85 percent last year. 

… MORE in Truth about Trade @

appropriate technologies for agricultural advancement

Agricultural technologies must be ‘appropriate’

Source: Global Food Security

5 April 2010

“An appropriate [agricultural] technology is accessible, affordable, easy-to-use and maintain, effective — and most importantly, it serves a real need.”…

How do we achieve this?

As “Science and Innovation for Development” author Jeff Waage stated in the book: “Between the extremes of a technological ‘silver bullet’ approach to development science, and the belief that local and intermediate technologies are the only legitimate approach, there is emerging today a new community of scientists dedicated to an inclusive view of appropriate science for development”.…

Road Map for Delivering GM Crops to the Third World?

A Search for Regulators and a Road Map to Deliver GM Crops to Third World Farmers
March 31, 2010

The New York Times
by Gayathri Vaidyanathan of ClimateWire

“In the transgenic crop fight, the foot soldiers on either side have been dug in for years. But despite the doubts about the necessity of GM, farmers have been voting with their seeds.”…

Key points in article:

Now and what is to come:

* transgenic crop acreage is increasing with developing nations and small farming ops being the newest adopters (up 7% over the last year according to the ISAAA)
* European Commission predicts that by 2015 there will be 120 commercial crops grown worldwide (currently there are 30)
* ~ 90% of 14 million farmers worldwide that use GM are ‘resource
poor’ farmers


* As many as 100 developing countries lack tech and management capacity to review tests and monitor compliance of GMs

“Biosafety regulations of countries are usually modeled after the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, an international agreement that promotes a “precautionary approach.” It says that GM crops can be adopted if they are of minimal risk to the environment and human health. It lays out a clear set of guidelines to test for that risk. But guidelines alone don’t suffice.”


Agriculture: a growing investment

An article in the Financial Times by Mike Scott

Published: March 14, 2010 10:24


“In spite of its central importance to society, agriculture is a sector that has long been misunderstood or ignored by investors, but this may be set to change.

“It is amazing how much agriculture has been overlooked,” says Bruce Kahn, director and senior investment analyst at DB Climate Change Advisors, part of Deutsche Asset Management. “There is not a lot of understanding of the complexities and the local and regional differences in agriculture.”

*Deutsche Bank * says that combining the food and potential fuel needs of 9bn people will require a 50 per cent increase in productivity – a challenge “that provides very large investment opportunities across the agribusiness complex”.



Discovery, development and registration of ag-related products to fight disease and pests: A study

Commissioned by Crop Life America and and the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA), Phillips McDougall conducted a study on the discovery, development and registration of new products designed to support modern agricultural production and fight pests and disease around the world.

The Study is available here:…

Some key notes articulated by Jack Boyne, director of communications for Bayer CropScience:

  • 50 percent of the world’s harvest would be lost if pests weren’t controlled 
  • it takes approximately 10 years of testing to bring a product to market, during which time half the product’s patent protection is lost 
  • products are evaluated not only for possible effects on human health but also for their impacts in wildlife and the environment 
  • only one product out of 100,000 evaluated actually makes it to market 
  • today’s products are better tested, more selective and more precisely applied than ever before — often a dose is measured in fractions of grams per acre 

Read more on this in “Crop protection products help feed world” (by David Bennett, Farm Press Editorial Staff).

Fischer Boel: an EU voice for advocacy in ag and trade

Here are a couple of my favorite quotes extracted from speeches by the EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Mariann Fischer Boel:

“Technology is needed to “produce more food with less”…As climate change gathers pace, and as water shortages and disease become more serious, we can’t afford to shut our minds to the possible benefits of GM crops with improved resistance to disease and environmental stress. It’s essential that, around the world, we listen clearly to the voice of science when taking decisions …” (World Summit on Food Security, Rome – November 17, 2009)

“Month after month, GMOs receive a clean bill of health from EFSA, but then get stuck because Member States cannot reach any qualified majority, in favour or against, when it comes to the vote on a proposal for authorisation. So first the relevant committee decides nothing; then the Council decides nothing; and finally, the Commission grants authorisation, as laid down in the rules. This process swallows huge amounts of time…vital time is being lost in procedures. The result is that a growing number of GM products are widely used in other parts of the world, but are not yet authorised in the European Union – not because we’ve found evidence of risk, but because the political decision is being knocked around like a ball in a slow-motion tennis match…For the farm sector, the imbalance between the European Union and the rest of the world is a clear and present financial threat…We must vote on the basis of science, not prejudice…” (Policy Dialogue at “European Policy Centre”, Brussels – October 15, 2009)

Mr. Lewis… tsk tsk…

What a hit for the Canadian agriculture industry…. and for Africa.  Way to go, Stephen Lewis… have you fogotten that HIV/AIDS ravaged Africa is also starving? There is so much lost knowledge of agricultural production process through generations lost through the HIV/AIDS epidemic.