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The Task Before Us

November 2, 2011
By: Jeanne Bernick, Top Producer Editor
The Task Before Us 1
Agriculture is failing the developing countries of Africa and Asia, and, as a result, the number of hungry people in the world is over the 1-billion mark.  

Feeding a hungry planet will require even more private investment

If you take a map of agricultural production worldwide and lay it over another map of where the population is going to live in 2050, they simply don’t align. Agriculture is failing the developing countries of Africa and Asia, and, as a result, the number of hungry people in the world is more than 1 billion.

"We have to double food output. That is a compelling charge, especially when we think the world doesn’t have much more arable land," said Samuel Allen, chairman and CEO of Deere & Co., who spoke during a panel discussion at the Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium, held in conjunction with the World Food Prize this past month in Des Moines, Iowa.

Deere is one of four companies that in 2009 helped establish the Global Harvest Initiative (GHI) to measure agricultural productivity and progress globally. The other founding members of GHI are Archer Daniels Midland, DuPont and Monsanto Company.

GHI has released its second annual Global Agricultural Productivity (GAP) Report. While the report showed increased worldwide ag output, it also highlighted the immense challenges and deficiencies in sub-Saharan Africa, where the vast majority of global population growth will occur.

The region is projected to grow its population by 49%—an increase of 1 billion people—by 2050.

The U.S. alone cannot meet the global need to reduce hunger and promote food security. Foreign assistance alone will not end hunger or eliminate undernutrition. We must draw on significant investments from other donors, the private sector, partner countries and citizens themselves, said William Lesher, chairman of the board of GHI.

"We can be cautiously optimistic about the new evidence of faster productivity growth, but the long-term solutions to hunger and food security remain daunting," Lesher said. "We must continue to pursue key policies with proven results in improving global agricultural productivity, such as investing in agricultural research, removing trade barriers and enhancing the role of the private sector."

A Big Gap. The GAP Index measures the difference between the current rate of agricultural productivity growth and the pace required to meet future needs. A twofold increase in agricultural output by 2050 will require total factor productivity to grow at an annual global rate of 1.75%, for example.

In 2010, GHI reported that the global productivity growth rate stood at 1.4% annually and that a 25% increase in the rate of growth was needed to close the gap. This year’s GAP Index shows that the growth rate is now increasing at a 1.74% annual rate.

The Task Before Us 2

Yet the pace of agricultural development in parts of the world where much of the population increase occurs is not fast enough, said Neil Conklin, president of the Farm Foundation, NFP. Currently, the productivity growth for sub-Saharan Africa averages approximately 0.85%, in sharp contrast to growth rates above 2% in Brazil and China.

Think of it this way: If sub-Saharan Africa had to meet its food needs independently, a twofold increase in productivity growth would be needed. While some of the region’s demand for food might be met by input intensification and reduction in postharvest loss, the challenge remains daunting.

Ghana’s Example. The GAP Report includes a case study of Ghana, a country that reflects the conditions in many African nations where agricultural production is central to the lives of its citizens. (The World Bank reports that up to 80% of Africa’s poor live in rural areas and nearly all work in agriculture.) Agriculture accounts for roughly one-third of Ghana’s gross domestic product.

Like other countries, Ghana has benefited from the adoption of improved crop technologies, mainly from the international agricultural research system. However, the nation is still struggling to realize all of the benefits of those practices. A 2010 survey found that approximately 80% of the farmers in Ghana’s Eastern Region have adopted improved maize, but less than half of them received commercial fertilizer.

The country’s yield gaps remain substantial. An average maize yield of 25 bu. per acre is reported to be 40% short of the achievable yield. National officials suggest the country lacks the resources to increase R&D spending or fertilizer use—key determinants of productivity growth. 

Former Ghanaian president John Kufuor pushed for public- and private-sector initiatives to end

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FEATURED IN: Top Producer - November 2011



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