A new report from the International Food Policy Research Institute has examined 11 agricultural practices and technologies and how they could help farmers around the world improve the sustainability of growing maize, rice and wheat.
The report, Food Security in a World of Natural Resource Scarcity: The Role of Agricultural Technologies, was released Wednesday.
The 11 innovations profiled include: crop protection, drip irrigation, drought tolerance, heat tolerance, integrated soil fertility management, no-till farming, nutrient use efficiency, organic agriculture, precision agriculture, sprinkler irrigation, and water harvesting.
Findings from the study indicate:
• No-till farming alone could increase maize yields by 20%, but also irrigating the same no-till fields could increase maize yields by 67% in 2050.
• Nitrogen-use efficiency could increase rice crop yields by 22%, but irrigation increased the yields by another 21%.
• Heat-tolerant varieties of wheat could increase crop yields from a 17% increase to a 23% increase with irrigation.
But no single silver bullet exists, says Mark Rosegrant, lead author of the book and director of IFPRI's Environment and Production Technology Division.
"The reality is that no single agricultural technology or farming practice will provide sufficient food for the world in 2050," Rosegrant said. "Instead, we must advocate for and utilize a range of these technologies in order to maximize yields."
However, it is realistic to assume that farmers in the developing world and elsewhere would adopt a combination of technologies as they become more widely available, IFPRI says.
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If farmers were to stack agricultural technologies in order of crop production schedules, the combination of agricultural technologies and practices could reduce food prices by up to 49% for maize, up to 43% for rice, and 45% for wheat due to increased crop productivity, the report found.
The technologies with the highest percentage of potential impact for agriculture in developing countries include no-till farming, nitrogen-use efficiency, heat-tolerant crops, and crop protection from weeds, insects and diseases.
The anticipated negative effects of climate change on agricultural productivity as well as projected population growth by 2050, suggest that food insecurity and food prices will increase. For example, climate change could decrease maize yields by as much as 18% by 2050–making it even more difficult to feed the world if farmers cannot adopt agricultural technologies that could help boost food production in their regions.
"One of the most significant barriers to global food security is the high cost of food in developing countries," Rosegrant explained. "Agricultural technologies used in combinations tailored to the crops grown and regional differences could make more food more affordable – especially for those at risk of hunger and malnutrition in developing countries."
However, based on current projections, stacked technologies could reduce food insecurity by as much as 36%. Making this a reality, however, depends on farmers gaining access to these technologies and learning how to use them.
This underscores the need for improved agricultural education to ensure that farmers are able to use the best available technologies for their region and resources, IFPRI says.
IFPRI highlights three key areas for investments prioritizing effective technology use:
• Increasing crop productivity through enhanced investment in agricultural research
• Developing and using resource-conserving agricultural management practices such as no-till farming, integrated soil fertility management, improved crop protection, and precision agriculture
• Increasing investment in irrigation