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Food Growth Rate Remains Stagnant

DES MOINES, Iowa ( -- The world needs its farmers to grow more crops for food, if projections for future consumer demands can be met, according to experts at the World Food Prize.

On Wednesday, the Global Harvest Initiative (GHI) released its annual Global Agricultural Productivity (GAP) Report at this year’s annual gathering of world leaders in the fight against hunger. 

Besides evaluating the productivity of agriculture around the world, the report also closely examined food systems in the U.S. and the potential for Zambia to be a breadbasket for Africa.

The report found that the global agriculture total factor productivity (TFP) is rising at a rate of 1.72%, which does not meet the required rate of 1.75% that is needed to sustain continual population growth. Low-income countries are only seeing a 1.5% increase in TFP. With a combination of better seeds, practices, and genetic lines for livestock, TFP can be increased to a sustainable rate, according to Kelly Winquist of John Deere.

Regional Productivity

In the U.S., farmers are meeting the needs of 321 million people, and less than 2% of the U.S. population is producing that food. Precision agriculture is helping American farmers to increase yields and productivity. However, agriculture and forestry production is the source of nearly a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

"The reason that productivity is increasing as much as it is today is because of the investments in research and development made 10 to 20 years ago," said Dr. Keith Fuglie, USDA economist. 

Zambia, on the other hand, has nearly 70% of its economically active population working in agriculture. There are over 100,000 conservation farmers using techniques to preserve soil and retain moisture. Over the next 15 years, the area's most popular product, maize, could see yields drop by 30% due to temperature increases. 

Risk Management Concerns

Because the agricultural commodities markets are hovering at below cost-of-production levels, the GHI panel urged global farmers to keep an eye on risk management.

Fuglie says that farmers gauge the ability to be productive by managing costs. “The outcome of a productive farmer, in the end, is the management of keeping production costs low,” Dr. Fuglie says. 

Colin Bletsky, senior vice president of BioAg, Novozymes, told the World Food Prize audience that risk management has a lot of tentacles. “Farmers around the world need stable government policies. This can help assure access to markets and market information. This would be very helpful. Less government policy, as we have seen already in some places around the world, is harmful to increasing agricultural production,” said Bletsky.

GHI and partners of the organization have five policy goals to help build a more sustainable agriculture and food system:

  • Invest in public agricultural research, development, and extension.
  • Embrace science-based and information technologies — and scale up efforts to get them into the hands of farmers.
  • Enhance private sector involvement in agriculture and infrastructure development.
  • Remove barriers to regional and global agricultural trade.
  • Strengthen and coordinate international development assistance and productive safety nets for nutrition.

GHI was created in 2009 to meet the rising demand for food and agricultural products through sustainable innovation. In an effort to serve 9.7 billion by 2050, companies came together to create a voice for resourceful agriculture. The group is made up of members from John Deere, DuPont, Monsanto, Elanco, The Mosaic Company, and Novozymes.

See story: Seed Security a Top Issue at World Food Prize Forum

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