For the second year in a row, the rate of growth in global agricultural productivity continues to stagnate, according to a report released Wednesday by the Global Harvest Initiative.
The 6th annual Global Agricultural Productivity Report warns that unless this trend is reversed, the world may not be able to sustainably provide the food, feed, fiber and biofuels needed for a booming global population.
The 2015 GAP Report was presented before an audience of farmers and global leaders in science, research and policy attending the annual World Food Prize symposium this week in Des Moines, Iowa.
Titled "Building Sustainable Breadbaskets," the report says global ag productivity must increase by 1.75% annually in order to meet the demands of an estimated 9.7 billion people who will populate the planet by the year 2050.
Rate of growth in productivity lags in poor countries
According to GHI's annual study of productivity growth, called the GAP Index, the current rate of growth is only 1.72% globally. The rate of annual productivity growth in low-income countries is lower, only 1.5%, said Margaret Ziegler, executive director of GHI.
At this rate, 15 years from now in 2030, sub-Saharan Africa will only be able to meet 14% of its food demand, driving up food prices for poor households and requiring significant imports, food assistance and opening up environmentally sensitive land for farming.
"Tackling global hunger and ensuring future generations have access to sufficient, affordable, nutritious food in the face of population growth and climate change requires immediate attention from public and private sectors alike," Ziegler said. "Together we must create food and ag systems that incorporate transparency, best practices of productivity, conservation of soil and water, animal well-being and responsible stewardship, from farmer to consumer, building resilience at every step of the value chain."
Productivity growth in U.S. is also stagnating
It's not just the developing countries of the world that face this problem. Growth in ag productivity is also lagging in the United States. The historical average for annual growth is 1.5% to 2% (from 1960 to 2000). It's less than 1% from 2001 to 2010, generating concern about the long-term potential for growth in sustainable agriculture and economic growth.
"Agriculture is a key driver of the U.S. economy, providing $2 trillion in revenue annually and employing 19 million people," Ziegler said. "U.S. consumers spend just 6% of their disposable income on food—the lowest rate in the industrialized world."
The GAP report highlights the powerful legacy of U.S. agriculture and its soil conservation system. It also encourages continued commitment and investment in research to generate new innovations that produce more food, feed, fiber and biofuel while at the same time conserve soil, water and other precious natural resources.
Increasing productivity requires long-term investment
The report also shines a spotlight on Zambia, a country that's diversifying its ag production systems and is building capacity to become a regional breadbasket in southern Africa.
"Raising global ag productivity requires long-term investments in research and development of science-based technologies, ag extension services and education for farmers around the world, efficient transportation and telecommunications, and support for the next generation of farmers," Zeigler said. "We also need agreements for better facilitation of global and regional trade and we must prioritize ag technologies and practices that help mitigate climate change and conserve natural resources."
Using precision agriculture and new technology
"By combining precision agriculture with advances in fertilizer, seed and bioagriculture technologies, we are able to 'farm smart, and conserve smart'—meaning farmers can produce more while also conserving and protecting soil, water and the natural resource base," said Cory Reed, vice president of John Deere's Intelligent Solutions Group and chair of the GHI board of directors.
A panel discussed how to cultivate resilient food and agriculture systems in the U.S. and Zambia, and how the right policies and public-private partnerships advance resilience and help manage risk.
Ziegler was joined for the panel discussion by Colin Bletsky, vice president of BioAg Novozymes; Cory Reed, vice president of Intelligent Solutions Group at Deere; Dr. Keith Fuglie, economist with USDA Economic Research Service; Ruth Ann Myers, national vice president of Future Farmers of America; and Dr. Phyllis Muturi, Makere University of Uganda and an AWARD Scholar at Iowa State University. Catherine Woteki, USDA Undersecretary of Agriculture for Research, Education and Economics, also participated in the panel discussion.
Visit globalharvestinitiative.org to read the full GAP report.