Boosting agricultural productivity key to feeding growing population – UN

12 October 2009
FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf opening the High-Level Expert Forum

Governments must ensure that agriculture becomes more productive if it is to feed a growing world population expected to reach nearly 9.2 billion people by 2050 as well as respond to the environmental challenges ahead, a senior United Nations official said today.

Governments must ensure that agriculture becomes more productive if it is to feed a growing world population expected to reach nearly 9.2 billion people by 2050 as well as respond to the environmental challenges ahead, a senior United Nations official said today.

Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told a meeting in Rome that 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,” Mr. Diouf said at the opening of the two-day High-Level Expert Forum on How to Feed the World in 2050.

He noted 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-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

He also said that “while organic agriculture contributes to hunger and poverty reduction and should be promoted, it cannot by itself feed the rapidly growing population.”

The two-day gathering focuses on policy options that governments should consider adopting to ensure that the world population can be fed when it nears its peak of almost 9.2 billion people by the middle of this century.

The Director-General pointed out that in addition to dwindling 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.”

The combined effects of climate change could reduce potential output by up to 30 per cent in Africa and up to 21 per cent in Asia, he 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,” said Mr. Diouf, adding that 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.

In addition to boosting agricultural productivity, he also noted the need to invest in improved water control and water management, as well as to bridge the technology gap between countries through knowledge transfer.

The High-Level Forum will also tackle the investment needs, technologies and policy measures needed to secure the world’s food supplies for the years ahead. Its conclusions will contribute to the World Summit on Food Security scheduled for 16 to 18 November in Rome.

 

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