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Food Production in 'Race Against Time'

Food Production in 'Race Against Time'

11 June 2012

GLOBAL - Humanity is in a “race against time” to produce enough food to feed itself, hampered by a false sense of comfort that set in over the last few decades when food supplies generally outpaced demand, said a University of Nebraska-Lincoln agronomist who’s one of the world’s leading experts on feeding the world.

Ken Cassman was one of several who reflected at the fourth annual global Water for Food Conference, hosted by the Robert B. Daugherty Foundation at the University of Nebraska and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“We really are in a race against time … and humanity doesn’t realize it,” said Cassman, Robert B. Daugherty Professor of Agronomy at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Cassman said the last 40 years or so have been a historical anomaly in much of the world, with food production so great that scientists like him were looking for other ways to use food crops. With the world’s population projected to increase from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050, and with limited land and water available, attention now is focused on how to increase food production.

The next 5-10 years are critical to grasp the scope of the crisis and develop the tools to address it, Cassman said. Among other things, scientists must get a handle on how much each existing hectare of farmland can produce.

A global yield gap atlas, which Cassman is helping develop, is one tool to gather that information. It will determine and make public the gap between existing and potential yield on any piece of cropland in the world.

“We need to think big,” urged Prem Paul, UNL vice chancellor for research and economic development. Research will be critical and two new NU entities – the Water for Food Institute and the Nebraska Innovation Campus, a public-private partnership at UNL – can play major roles.

The 9 billion population number is only a projection, several speakers during the conference noted. Many expect population growth to slow significantly at that point, and others note that societal changes could change the 2050 estimate. One such change could be empowerment of women in developing countries, said Simi Kamal, chief executive officer of the Pakistan-based Hisaar Foundation.

Kamal noted that women provide much of the agricultural labor in the world but are not involved in leadership. Educated, empowered women have more choices in life, may not marry as young or have as many children as poor women do.

More than 550 people from 28 nations registered for the conference to discuss the research, education and policy implications of feeding the growing population.

TheCropSite News Desk

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