Agricultural Technologies can increase global crop yields

Organic farm in GhanaIncreased demand for food due to population and income growth and the impacts of climate change on agriculture will ratchet up the pressure for increased and more sustainable agricultural production to feed the planet.

A new report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) measures the impacts of agricultural innovation on farm productivity, prices, hunger, and trade flows as we approach 2050 and identifies practices which could significantly benefit developing nations.

The book titled, “Food Security in a World of Natural Resource Scarcity: The Role of Agricultural Technologies”, which was made available to the Ghana News Agency on Thursday by Sarah Immenschuh Brawner IFPRI Communications Specialist.

It examines 11 agricultural practices and technologies and how they could help farmers around the world improve the sustainability of growing three of the world’s main staple crops – maize, rice, and wheat.

Using a first-of-its-kind data model, IFPRI pinpoints the agricultural technologies and practices that can most significantly reduce food prices and food insecurity in developing nations.

The study profiles 11 agricultural innovations: crop protection, drip irrigation, drought tolerance, heat tolerance, integrated soil fertility management, no-till farming, nutrient use efficiency, organic agriculture, precision agriculture, sprinkler irrigation, and water harvesting.

Findings from the book indicates no-till farming alone could increase maize yields by 20 percent, but also irrigating the same no-till fields could increase maize yields by 67 per cent in 2050 and nitrogen-use efficiency could increase rice crop yields by 22 per cent, but irrigation increased the yields by another 21 per cent.

It said heat-tolerant varieties of wheat could increase crop yields from a 17 per cent increase to a 23 per cent increase with irrigation.

“Yet, no single silver bullet exists. The reality is that no single agricultural technology or farming practice will provide sufficient food for the world in 2050,” said Mark Rosegrant, lead author of the book and director of IFPRI’s Environment and Production Technology Division. “Instead we must advocate for and utilize a range of these technologies in order to maximize yields.”

It said however, it is realistic to assume that farmers in the developing world and elsewhere would adopt a combination of technologies as they become more widely available.

It said if farmers were to stack agricultural technologies in order of crop production schedules, the combination of agricultural technologies and practices could reduce food prices by up to 49 per cent for maize, up to 43 per cent for rice, and 45 per cent for wheat due to increased crop productivity.

It said the technologies with the highest percentage of potential impact for agriculture in developing countries include no-till farming, nitrogen-use efficiency, heat-tolerant crops, and crop protection from weeds, insects, and diseases.

The anticipated negative effects of climate change on agricultural productivity as well as projected population growth by 2050, suggest that food insecurity and food prices will increase.

It said climate change could decrease maize yields by as much as 18 per cent by 2050 making it even more difficult to feed the world if farmers cannot adopt agricultural technologies that could help boost food production in their regions.

“One of the most significant barriers to global food security is the high cost of food in developing countries,” Rosegrant explained. “Agricultural technologies used in combinations tailored to the crops grown and regional differences could make more food more affordable – especially for those at risk of hunger and malnutrition in developing countries.”

It said however, based on current projections, stacked technologies could reduce food insecurity by as much as 36 per cent.

The publication said making this a reality, however, depends on farmers gaining access to these technologies and learning how to use them; this underscores the need for improved agricultural education to ensure that farmers are able to use the best available technologies for their region and resources.

IFPRI highlights three key areas for investments prioritizing effective technology use. These are increasing crop productivity through enhanced investment in agricultural research and developing and using resource-conserving agricultural management practices such as no-till farming, integrated soil fertility management, improved crop protection, and precision agriculture and increasing investment in irrigation.

Adopting the technologies examined in the study would increase food production and improve food security under climate change.

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