Stories tagged: food prices

Mark Rosegrant: What is the Role of Agricultural Technologies for Global Food Security?

A wealth of technologies is now at our disposal for boosting yields of the world’s key staple crops, in order to face the large demands on our food supplies by 2050. But how can we measure which ones will be most effective, when, and where? Which combinations of technologies will have the largest impact? Until now, policymakers have struggled to make informed decisions on how to boost productivity in their regions in the most sustainable way.

The book “Food Security in A World of Natural Resource Scarcity: The Role of Agricultural Technologies” launched today by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) seeks to answer these questions. This ground breaking study divides the world’s arable land into a grid of 60 kilometre by 60 kilometre cells and shows how eleven different agricultural innovations might affect maize, wheat and rice yields by 2050 under climate change conditions. Through linking this yield assessment with a global economic model, the book also reports on technology impacts on food prices, trade and food security.


The report reviews 11 agricultural technologies ranging from traditional low-tech practices to more advanced technologies:

1.         No-till – minimum or no soil disturbance, often in combination with retention of residues, crop rotation, and use of cover crops

2.         Integrated soil fertility management – a combination of chemical fertilizers, crop residues, and manure/compost

3.         Precision agriculture – GPS-assisted delivery of agricultural inputs, as well as low-tech management practices that aim to control all field parameters, from input delivery to plant spacing to water level

4.         Organic agriculture – cultivation with exclusion of or strict limits on the use of manufactured fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators, and genetically modified organisms

5.         Water harvesting – water channelled toward crop fields from macro- or micro-catchment systems, or via earth dams, ridges, or graded contours

6.         Drip irrigation – water applied as a small discharge directly around each plant or to the root zone, often using microtubing

7.         Sprinkler irrigation – water distributed under pressure through a pipe network and delivered to the crop via overhead sprinkler nozzles

8.         Heat tolerance – improved varieties allowing the plant to maintain yields at higher temperatures

9.         Drought tolerance – improved varieties allowing better yields due to enhanced soil moisture uptake capabilities and reduced vulnerability to water deficiency

10.       Nitrogen-use efficiency – plants that respond better to fertilizers

11.       Crop protection – the practice of managing pests, plant diseases, weeds, and other pest organisms that damage agricultural crops


The book finds that widespread adoption of these technologies can significantly reduce global hunger by 2050. The number of food-insecure people in developing countries in 2050 could be reduced by 12 percent if nitrogen use efficiency technologies were successfully developed and adopted, by 9 percent if no-till is adopted more aggressively and by 8 percent with widespread adoption of heat tolerance and precision agriculture.

The book also finds that the use of no-till on a global scale can increase biophysical maize and wheat yields by about 30 percent, with small variations depending on climate change scenario. On a regional scale, it could increase maize yields in Sub-Saharan Africa by more than 30 percent in rain-fed environments and more than 100 percent in irrigated environments.

On a global scale, biophysical yield impacts for crop protection products for disease, insects and weeds are close to 10 percent each across the three crops; and will constitute an important tool to address likely growing pest pressures under both intensification and climate change.

Irrigation water savings on fields under drip irrigation are 24 to 27 percent, depending on crop and climate change scenario, much higher than water savings for sprinkler irrigation systems calculated at 11 to 12 percent.


Agricultural technology impacts differ substantially by region and within regions by country. For example, when the impact of drought tolerance is tested globally, it seems to have a low impact, as drought only affects some regions in some seasons and years. Yet at the right time in the right region, impacts can be significant. Detailed drought yield assessment in the United States and China, two of the world’s largest maize producers shows yield benefits of up to 13 percent for this technology and crop.

Given that the study generated vast datasets on these technologies and crops for all countries in the world under varying climate change scenarios, an online tool has been developed to allow policymakers and researchers hands-on access to the results.


Combining multiple technologies (or ‘stacking’ them) can have an even greater impact. Adopting the three types of crop protection (weed, disease and insects) together could reduce the number of food-insecure people by close to 9 percent.

Moreover, if all technologies with positive yield impacts were adopted together for these three crops, prices of maize, wheat and rice could be reduced by 49 percent, 45 percent and 43 percent, respectively. This is equivalent to reducing the number of people at risk of hunger by 40 percent.

This first of its kind study can truly equip decision makers to take action now to secure a sustainable food supply for a healthy planet in 2050.

Find out more by visiting

Food Security in a World of Growing Natural Resource Scarcity

Averting Food Crisis: Improving Smallholder Agriculture

Global food prices have returned to the spotlight in recent weeks, owing to the devastating drought in the United States that has caused crop prices to climb. The global food price index produced by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) rose by 6 percent to 213 points in July, causing concern that we could be heading towards another crisis similar to that of 2007/8 that pushed 44 million people into poverty.

But what can be done to prevent this from happening? An immediate reaction from producer countries may well be to impose export bans, to protect food availability in their own countries. Director-General of the International Food Policy Research Institute, Shengenn Fan, warns against this. In a recent statement he said:

Countries must stay away from imposing export restrictions when food prices increase because they lead to tighter market conditions and panic purchases by food-importing countries, thereby exacerbating food price hikes.

The production of biofuels has also fallen under scrutiny, with FAO Director-General Jose Graziano Da Silva speaking out in the Financial Times last week. Currently, about 40 percent of total maize production in the United States is used to produce ethanol. The US Department of Agriculture’s forecast for maize production is at its lowest level since 2006/07, sparking debate as to whether the mandates in the US and EU should be relaxed in times of food shortage. Da Silva commented:

While the current situation is precarious and could deteriorate further if unfavourable weather conditions persist, it is not a crisis yet. Countries and the UN are better equipped than in 2007-08 to face high food prices, with the introduction of its Agricultural Market Information System, which promotes co-ordination of policy responses. Risks are high and the wrong responses to the current situation could create it. It is vitally important that any unilateral policy reactions from countries, whether importers or exporters, do not further destabilise the situation.

When food prices rise sharply, it is those in the developing world, who spend a large percentage of their income on food that suffer most. The following infographic, produced by the World Food Programme demonstrates varying income expenditure on food, and what happens when the poor are forced to spend more on food: they are left with barely any income for health, education and shelter.

It is therefore critical we avert another food crisis, and research shows we have it within our power to do this. Vulnerable families in the developing world need not rely on industrial powerhouses such as the United States for their crops, they could be self-reliant, and produce enough food not only to feed themselves, but their continent.  As Marianne Bänziger, Deputy Director-General at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) recently commented:

There are many developing countries where productivity could be increased to reduce overreliance on imports and benefit rural poor and development in those countries at large. The potential for improvement is enormous. Providing farmers with knowhow and improved agronomy, seed, and storage methods can produce dramatic effects both for individual families, entire countries, and the globe as a whole.

To enable smallholder farmers to rise to this challenge, it is imperative that we invest in the infrastructure necessary in rural areas, and improve access to stress-tolerant seeds and fertilizer. Weather-based index crop insurance mechanisms that protect farmers from adverse climatic events, and extension services that train farmers in agroforestry, crop diversity and smart irrigation, can all play critically important roles in creating a resilient new crop of farmers that will stave off hunger for future generations.


Food Security on the Table at Chatham House

This year’s Chatham House Food Security conference saw some of the most influential speakers in agricultural development coming together to discuss the current pressures and challenges faced by farmers around the world.

The two-day conference held last week, of which Farming First was a media partner, heard from IFAD’s president, Kanayo Nwanze, UN Assistant Secretary General David Nabarro, IFPRI Senior Research Fellow Gerald Nelson, and UK Secretary of State RT Hon Caroline Spelman, amongst many other high-profile speakers.

Focusing on the challenge of feeding 9 billion people by 2050, this year the focus was very much on the need for “sustainable intensification”.

Speakers focused on the need to support smallholder farmers, which they said required a concerted effort tackling not just productivity, but also governance issues, infrastructure, access to inputs and know-how, technology, trade barriers, micro-finance and gender inequalities.

Yet whilst these issues may help address supply side issues, they also spoke about matters on the demand side of food chains that cause insecurities – namely urbanisation, population and economic growth.

Commenting on the various food security funds set up over the years, Kanayo Nwanze, who was speaking on the record, called for an accountability framework that would ensure that promises were kept to. He stated, “Declarations don’t feed people, actions do.”


Food prices

Regarding recent food price spikes, the conference heard that underneath immediate, temporary price increases was a chronic crisis.  On the second day of the conference, representatives from the financial and banking sector provided their perspectives on food commodities markets. One speaker talked about a “supply side response” to higher prices, meaning that farmers gain from higher prices and are spurred on to grow more. As a result, it was suggested that no food price movement would be sustained, because of this supply side response. It was also agreed upon that trade is key to reducing price volatility.


There was a great emphasis placed on the vital role of public-private partnerships which, in helping initiatives go to scale, were said to be where the quick wins are.


In addressing the uptake gap with agricultural technologies, many speakers reiterated that getting technologies to farmers was only one half of the challenge. Education and technical skills development were crucial to ensuring farmers know how to use new technologies efficiently and safely. The issue of who pays for the knowledge transfer that is involved in sustainable intensification was questioned.  It was also suggested that demonstration farms in every community could be a successful way of imparting new knowledge to farmers.


Agribusiness at all levels was supported to help countries take part in global markets. Indeed, it was said that no country had ever achieved economic growth without participation in global trade.

Gender Relationships

The majority of farmers in the developing world are women, yet women receive far less inputs and less income than men. Gender equality in agriculture was highlighted as a key concern.

Most speakers spoke under the Chatham House rule and therefore cannot be quoted.