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Agriculture to 2050: The challenges ahead

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf © FAO/G. Napolitano

Agriculture must become more productive if it is to feed a much larger world population while responding to the daunting environmental challenges ahead, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said here today.

12 October 2009, Rome - Opening a two-day High-Level Expert Forum on How to Feed the World in 2050, Diouf told the 300 delegates that over the next 40 years: "The combined effect of population growth, strong income growth and urbanization ... is expected to result in almost the doubling of demand for food, feed and fibre."

"Agriculture will have no choice but to be more productive," Diouf added, noting that increases would need to come mostly from yield growth and improved cropping intensity rather than from farming more land despite the fact that there are still ample land resources with potential for cultivation, particularly in sub-Sahara Africa and Latin America. He also noted that "while organic agriculture contributes to hunger and poverty reduction and should be promoted, it cannot by itself feed the rapidly growing population."

World population is projected to rise to 9.1 billion in 2050 from a current 6.7 billion, requiring a 70-percent increase in farm production.  

Growing scarcity

In addition to a growing scarcity of natural resources such as land, water and biodiversity "global agriculture will have to cope with the effects of climate change, notably higher temperatures, greater rainfall variability and more frequent extreme weather events such as floods and droughts," Diouf warned.

Climate change would reduce water availability and lead to an increase in plant and animal pests and diseases.  The combined effects of climate change could reduce potential output by up to 30 percent in Africa and up to 21 percent in Asia, the FAO Chief noted.

"The challenge is not only to increase global future production but to increase it where it is mostly needed and by those who need it most," he stressed. "There should be a special focus on smallholder farmers, women and rural households and their access to land, water and high quality seeds... and other modern inputs."

Water challenge

Diouf noted the special challenge posed by water as climate change would make rainfall increasingly unreliable.  Investment in improved water control and water management should be considered a priority.

It is also important to bridge the technology gap between countries through knowledge transfer using North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation to achieve sustainable increases in agricultural production and productivity. 

Competition from bioenergy

Food production would also face increasing competition from the biofuel market "which has the potential to change the fundamentals of agricultural market systems", with production set to increase by nearly 90 percent over the next 10 years to reach 192 billion litres by 2018.
 
At the Forum, about 300 eminent experts from around the world will review and debate the investment needs, technologies and policy measures needed to secure the world's food supplies on horizon 2050. It is calculated that $44 billion a year of official development assistance (ODA) will need to be invested in agriculture in developing countries - against the $7.9 billion that is being spent now. Higher investments, including from national budgets, foreign direct investment and private sector resources, should be made for better access to modern inputs, more irrigation systems, machinery, storage, more roads and better rural infrastructures, as well as more skilled and better trained farmers. 

Through its conclusions and recommendations the Forum will contribute to the debate and outcome of the World Summit on Food Security scheduled at FAO headquarters on November 16-18, to be attended by Heads of State and Government from FAO's 192 Members. It is hoped the Summit will agree then on the complete and rapid eradication of hunger so that every human being on Earth can enjoy the most fundamental of all human rights - the "right to food" and thus to decent life. 

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