Nobel Peace Laureate Norman Borlaug says the 21st Century challenge to agriculture will be producing sufficient supplies of food to sustain the world's continued population growth
“The world has the technology, either available or well-advanced in the research pipeline, to feed 10 billion people,” said Borlaug, who delivered the keynote address during the second day of the Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology in Sacramento, Calif.
“Extending the Green Revolution to the Gene Revolution will provide a better diet at lower prices to many more food-insecure people.”
Agricultural scientists have the ability to meet this challenge through continued research and development of technology, including biotechnology, that can expand the yield potential of crops to improve resistance to insects and disease, resistance to herbicides, nutritional quality and abiotic stresses.
But Borlaug said that some of the organizations that are influencing public policy are impeding research with fears that are unfounded in light of extensive scientific research. The results are regulation that has constrained innovation, especially in smaller laboratories, as well as a significant decline in funding for public sector research from the World Bank and many bilateral donors.
He also questioned the rapid consolidation of ownership of life sciences companies and the current intellectual property system.
The Green Revolution of the 1960s, the creation of high-yield crops, and more efficient farming methods, saved millions from starvation and advanced conservation of the environment, he noted.
The production of cereals, such as wheat, maize or rice, which comprise 70 percent of the world food supply, has increased from 650 million tons in 1950 to 1.9 billion tons in 2000. During this same period, the land area under cultivation for cereals remained steady at 660 million hectares, sparing 1.1 billion hectares from being plowed at 1950 yield levels.
While poverty is still rampant in Asia, Borlaug said, Africa remains the region of greatest concern. Declining soil fertility and sparse application of improved technology, coupled with the lack of roads and transport, poor education and health services, high population growth even with the spread of HIV/AIDS, has led to continued chronic hunger for 200 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa and portends an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.