How to Feed the Need

December 2, 2016 02:19 AM
How to Feed the Need

New report maps out the road to feeding the world in 2050

A recent report released by Global Harvest Initiative (GHI) spells out priorities for the farming sector—and the stakes are high. 

In its 7th annual Global Agricultural Productivity (GAP) report, GHI estimates global agricultural productivity must increase 1.75% annually to have the capacity to sustainably feed 9.7 billion people. So far, the overall trend is close—1.73% annual growth—but low-income countries have struggled at a stagnating 1.3% growth.

There is room for productivity improvements everywhere, says Margaret Zeigler, executive of GHI, and it’s obvious different countries have different needs in regard to sustainable food production.

To that end, even some basic practices could help small-scale farmers around the world, she says. In the U.S., it’s more about how to cut costs and manage risk without sacrificing best practices. For example, Zeigler worries cover crop adoption will slow or reverse as farmers deal with tight budgets. 

This year’s GAP report had an additional focus on the agricultural business cycle.

“We need to ensure the agricultural value chain is competitive in every phase of the business cycle,” says Ben Pratt, vice president of corporate public affairs for The Mosaic Company and chair of the GHI board of directors. “The food price crisis was just six years ago. To think that in half a decade we have created systems that will sustainably produce an abundance of food would be to disregard history.” 

Now that the election is over, attention is turning to the farm bill. GHI has five strategic policy goals the group says are essential to stimulating growth and resiliency in agriculture. 

First, GHI wants to see additional investment in public agricultural research, development and Extension. Since the turn of the 21st century, private research and development (R&D) has spiked upward while public R&D has slipped downward.

“We think that’s a real problem, and it will be a strong policy recommendation we’ll make for the next farm bill,” Zeigler says.

GHI’s other top policy priorities are: embrace sustainability-friendly technologies, enhance private sector involvement, cultivate sustainability partnerships and foster more regional and global trade agreements.

Zeigler hopes the 2016 GAP report will give policymakers a better glimpse into the lives of farmers and other key players in agriculture. Throughout the report are success stories from across the world, from collaborative sorghum and millet research in India that benefits small-scale women farmers to a long-term land improvement project on a North Carolina row-crop farm.

“We hope the report tells a bit of the farmer’s story and puts it in context outside of the farming community,” she says.

The 2016 GAP report was presented to stakeholders in October at the World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines. For more information, visit



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