Change in attitude essential to feed the world
THE challenge of sustainable intensification, and how to overcome the various barriers, was discussed during a conference at Chatham House in London.
The Chatham House rule enables journalists to use the information received but not reveal the identity or the affiliation of the speaker.
Speakers from across the globe gave their views on the subject, including how to address issues with soil, water, the increased demand for protein, climate change, yield and post-harvest losses.
Here are the four main action points:
The need for research
Speakers said money was the greatest barrier to research and investors had to see clear policy making from Government to gain enough confidence to throw their weight behind projects.
They said it was possible to ‘triple’ food production on existing land but in order to do so, producers needed enough tools in the toolbox to be able to do it.
“We need technology, genetic modification and better land management practices,” said one expert. “There is big potential to raise yields using know-how and technology.
“We seem to embrace technology in other sectors, but not agriculture. If we applied this state of mind to motoring or over-the-counter medicines, we would lead very uneventful and boring lives.
“We have world class scientists and world class manufacturing facilities. We need just enough regulation to sustain technology in agriculture.
“At the moment we are battling a regulatory environment which is getting tougher.”
Meeting demand for protein
Livestock are inefficient, contribute ‘tremendously’ to our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and take up land which could be used to grow crops, a scientist told the conference.
The speaker said meat consumption would double by 2050 when the world population is expected to rise to about 9 billion people.
He said meat would ‘compete for resources’, adding ‘we are already using 70 per cent of arable land for livestock’.
“Livestock are very inefficient,” said the speaker. “They only convert 15 per cent of all the food they eat into meat.
“They contribute tremendously to all our GHG emissions and there is an increasing pressure from the public to do something about animal welfare and using antibiotics.”
The speaker said test-tube meat which ‘tasted like the real thing’ was an excellent example of how protein could be developed in a laboratory, rather than taking up ‘precious’ resources.
Crops to fuel the future
Biofuels have a big role to play in the world’s future energy mix and can do so without competing for food, an expert told delegates.
The speaker said the common misconception that there is ‘not enough space on earth’ to produce both food and fuel did not help the argument for crop based fuels.
He said the debate was not just a case of food versus fuel, but how land can be used more efficiently and effectively, without one impacting the other.
The speaker said: “There is a lot more potential for improvement. We are confident biofuels will not compete with food production.
“Using innovative mapping techniques is one way we can identify the right zones for energy crop cultivation. Energy grasses can grow on poorer quality land than food crops.”
The speaker added more energy could be produced by ‘unlocking more of the plant’.
Satellites in agriculture
Speakers agreed ‘smarter thinking’ was needed to improve outputs and satellites would become more important on the road to 2050.
An expert on the subject said farmers were already benefiting from precision agriculture, but remote sensing and mapping could be used more effectively and ultimately boost yields.
He said: “We can use the technology to map habitats and vegetation.
“We can see where animals go – for example, looking at wasp habitats so wasps can eat the aphids and in doing so protecting crops from the pests. We can see what plants and animals live in an area and in doing so manage the environment.
“We can use this to increase yields but in a sustainable way because each part of the land will be used to its full potential.
“Farmers are already using it but this is about going further with it and using it around the world. This could be a real game changer.”