Knowledge for better food systems

Food Security in a world of growing natural resource scarcity: the role of agricultural technologies

This IFPRI (International Food Policy Research Institute) policy note summarises the results of a study that compares the effects that different technologies have on crop yields and resource use, in particular arable land, water and nutrient inputs. It models technology-induced changes in crop yields and considers how the mix of technology uptake can influence the global food market through changes in food prices and trade flows, as well as calorie availability, in particular for developing countries.

This IFPRI (International Food Policy Research Institute) policy note summarises the results of a study that compares the effects that different technologies have on crop yields and resource use, in particular arable land, water and nutrient inputs. It models technology-induced changes in crop yields and considers how the mix of technology uptake can influence the global food market through changes in food prices and trade flows, as well as calorie availability, in particular for developing countries.

The study used a combination of spatially disaggregated crop models linked to economic models to explore the impacts on agricultural productivity and global food markets of 11 alternative agricultural technologies as well as selected technology combinations for maize, rice, and wheat, the world’s key staple crops. The technologies cover a broad range of traditional, conventional, and advanced practices with some proven potential for yield improvement as well as the potential for wide geographic application.

The results show the number of food-insecure people in developing countries in 2050 could be reduced by 12 percent if nitrogen use–efficiency technologies were rolled out, by 8 percent if no-till is adopted more widely, by 7 percent if heat tolerant varieties, precision agriculture, and the combined crop protection technologies are adopted, and by 4 percent for ISFM (integrated soil fertility management). It concludes that sustainably meeting the challenge of climate change while substantially improving food security requires a three-pronged effort: increasing crop productivity through enhanced investment in agricultural research; development and use of resource-conserving management; and increased investment in irrigation. The paper doesn’t consider demand side changes.

If you want to read the full IFPRI report, click here.

You can also browse through the FCRN resources on the role of technology to address food and climate issues here and read more about various food security issues here.

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While some of the food system challenges facing humanity are local, in an interconnected world, adopting a global perspective is essential. Many environmental issues, such as climate change, need supranational commitments and action to be addressed effectively. Due to ever increasing global trade flows, prices of commodities are connected through space; a drought in Romania may thus increase the price of wheat in Zimbabwe.

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