Conferences around the world consider how farmers will be able to feed the world’s growing population, which is expected to increase from 7 billion to 9 billion people by 2050.
Agricultural research and development will be very important, just as when it helped farmers keep up when the world’s population doubled over the last 50 years.
But the task looks more difficult ahead. Production research and development must address all types of farms, including the 400 million farms in the world with less than 5 acres each. All farms will be needed to feed the world in the future.
“There will continue to be a decreasing area of agricultural land available per person globally for food production,” says David Leaver, president of the British Institute of Agricultural Consultants. For example, in 1967 there were 4.2 acres of cropland/person, and in 2007, just 1.7 acres of cropland/person were available.
Costs and regulations
While private investment in research in the developed world has been strong, overall funding has slowed over the past two decades, especially in the public sector. Adding to this concern is the global economic situation. “When in cases of financial stress, often research and development is the first to suffer,” Leaver says.
Besides funding, there are other tough obstacles for more research and development. One is the intricate maze that a new agricultural product must negotiate to come to market. A myriad of regulatory hurdles throughout the global food chain cost companies millions of dollars to handle.
Julia Wheeler, director of research and development for DuPont Crop Protection, says, “The challenge is the cost required to successfully develop the product and the resources required to bring it to market. To be successful, we must collaborate with regulatory agencies to not only improve food production, but also maintain export opportunities.”
Streamlining and harmonizing regulations would make the entire process more efficient for not only the companies involved, but the countries involved as well.
“Recently, DuPont worked with key regulators in five countries on a Global Joint Review project, in which the regulators collaborated in reviewing the global regulatory dossier,” Wheeler says. “We found that the Global Joint Review process actually reduced the product review time, even though each country conducted its own risk assessment. That’s because by sharing information on the dossier evaluation, each country decreased duplication of effort and reduced the overall amount of work required to register the product.”
Another key for the future of ag research and development will be collaborative efforts among all stakeholders. Already, U.S. farmers have seen collaborations between major ag biotech companies to deliver new products (SmartStax, for example). “Collaboration will be critical to encourage discovery, development and registration of new agricultural products,” Wheeler says. “We can’t operate in a vacuum.”
Leaver is critical of what he sees as “silos,” where information is not readily exchanged among organizations and where some ag research and development currently operates. “Global food security should be the focus of all our initiatives, and we need a coordinated approach to reach that goal,” he says
Countries such as China are seeing the need to develop a secure food supply and continue to pour a tremendous amount of resources into agricultural research and development. “China is investing a lot in agriculture, especially biotech,” Wheeler says.
But research and development efforts also must include Africa, where food security is critical. Here small farmers remain a vital part of the food supply. Investments in research and development will be crucial to help these farmers contribute to the world’s food supply.
“For 40 years, global food production has kept pace with population growth and per-capita-income growth,” Leaver says. “Agricultural research and development has been a major driver of this increase. The next 40 years will mean similar productivity growth is required to satisfy the continuing rise in food demand.”
Wheeler says removing unnecessary barriers that prevent new technologies from getting into the hands of those who need it is critical to ensure continued investment. “We are in an era of urgent challenges and unique opportunities,” she says. “We must work together to meet these challenges.”