Helping Farmers Innovate to Harvest More From Less
By Trevor Nicholls
By 2050, we face the challenge of feeding 50% more people within the finite and diminishing resources on the planet. Significant investment is going into the development of new crop varieties that will offer higher yields, greater pest resistance or better tolerance of adverse conditions. There is also a vigorous debate about the potential to extend available farmland and increase the global area under cultivation.
These developments can only be part of the solution. Agriculture will face increasing competition for scarce water and land resources as society seeks to balance its needs and desires for more food with demands for increasingly scarce (and hence lucrative) mineral resources, space for urbanisation, protection of ecosystems and protection of biodiversity. Simply expanding agricultural capacity will not be sufficient. We must lose less of what we already grow and use existing inputs more efficiently if we are to meet the challenge of achieving global food security.
On average, 40% of the crops grown worldwide are lost to pests and diseases before they reach the consumer, on top of which is wastage during processing, spoilage at retailers and over-purchasing by consumers. We must consider how innovations in pest management, water usage, fertilizer technology and soil health improvement can help us feed more.
To be effective, new technologies or techniques must be communicated to and adopted by farming communities around the world for innovation and uptake to take place. In the face of a chronic shortage of funding, skills and resources to support extension systems worldwide, we must also look at how new approaches and technologies can be used to get relevant, actionable information to rural smallholders.
At the Crawford Fund I presented a paper which looks at these challenges, and the work CABI is doing to help tackle them. You can read the full paper here.