The population of the world is expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050. Most of this growth will occur in developing countries, so increased wealth and urbanisation will also contribute to increasing demand for food. It is estimated that, by 2050, food production must increase by 70%. This will require policy changes, the support of agriculture, and increased investment by developing countries, or greater donations from elsewhere. It is also estimated that 80% of the increased production in developing countries must come from increased yield, not expanding the amount of farm land.
This brings up several problems. For example, the rate of growth of yields has been declining for several years, and climate change may reduce Africa’s agricultural yields by up to 30% by 2100. An increasing amount of land is also being used for biofuel production. Currently less than 3% of crop growing land is used to produce biofuels, however, could increasing fossil fuel prices change this?
So it is clear that in order to feed the growing population we can not continue as we are. Here are several possible options that could help to increase food production in the future:
Genetic Modification of Rice
In India and Bangladesh alone, 4 million tonnes of rice (enough to feed 30 million people) is destroyed by flooding each year. Most strains of rice will die if they are submerged within 3 days, however, through genetic engineering, a variety that can survive submergence for 2 weeks has been developed. This tolerance is brought about by the overexperssion of the Sub1A gene. Rice crops have also been modified to increase their resistance to herbicides, making it easier to control competing weeds.
In 2013 this flood resistant rice was received by more than 4 million farmers.
Biofortification is the process of breeding food crops with a higher micronutrient content. This technique is mainly used to prevent deficiencies in poor rural communities, without large changes to people’s diets. For example, orange-fleshed sweet potato has been the first biofortified crop to be widely consumed. In many African countries people’s diets are high in the staple foods maize, cassava and sweet potato, but lack diversity. It is estimated that in Africa 32% of children under 5 years old are deficient in vitamin A. The orange-fleshed sweet potato was biofortified with vitamin A, and provided in Mozambique and Uganda by the research organisation HarvestPlus.
HarvestPlus is working on the biofortification of beans, cassava, maize, pearl millet, rice, sweet potato and wheat, to include vitamin A, zinc and iron.
Eradication of Diseases
Pathogens cause huge losses in both crop and livestock yields. Surveillance, diagnosis and vaccines can all be used to reduce these losses. For example, the rinderpest virus that used once infected livestock, has been eradicated. This virus killed up to 95% of those infected, dramatically reducing meat and milk yields. According to The Department of International Development, it had been a problem for over 10,000 years, but the last known case was in 2001 in Kenya. Live vaccines were initially used over 100 years ago, when serum was taken from recovered animals, combined with blood from infected animals and found to provide long term immunity. After this, vaccines were created that produced fewer symptoms, were heat stable and could be produced in large quantities.
Rinderpest and smallpox are the only two infectious diseases to have been eradicated, but in the future, further eradications may allow greater increases in yield.
The Pig Idea
The Pig Idea is a campaign encouraging the use of food waste to feed pigs. One third of all food is wasted globally, and currently there is a ban in the EU on feeding this waste to pigs. However pigs are instead fed on wheat, maize and soy, which is suitable for humans to eat and is grown on land created by the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. The increasing price of these crops has already put many pig farmers out of business. It is also estimated that around 20 times less carbon dioxide would be emitted by feeding food waste to pigs, rather than allowing it’s decomposition.
However, some countries have already accepted this idea. For example, the Japanese government supports pig farmers that feed their animals waste, and this meat is sold more cheaply in supermarkets.
Growth of Acacia trees in Africa
These trees grow in virtually all environments, from deserts to the fringes of tropical rain forests. This is due to their ability to fix nitrogen from the air and extract water and nutrients from deep in the soil. Many of these trees have been removed to create land for farming.
However, land degradation is a huge problem in areas of Africa, and acacia trees improve structure and fertility in the soil, as well as preventing water runoff that caused erosion, and loss of nutrients. They can provide shade for plants and animals, and can produce pods for animal fodder and many goods.