A group of 18 farmers from every hemisphere compared notes on the challenges of feeding a growing world population Tuesday. They comprised the Global Farmer-to-Farmer Roundtable, held in conjunction with the Norman E. Borlaug World Food Prize in Des Moines, IA. The annual event challenges great minds to feed 9.1 billion people by 2050, in the spirit of Green Revolution leader and 1970 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman Borlaug. The Cresco, IA, native, plant breeder and agronomist worked tirelessly with farmers and agronomists on several continents to improve grain yields. The World Food Prize is the foremost international award recognizing those who’ve improved global food security.
World population is forecast to increase by 2.6 billion over the next 45 years, the equivalent of two more Chinas (6.5 billion today to 9.1 billion in 2050). Roundtable farmers representing Europe, Africa, India, Pakistan, Central, South and North America were asked what they need to feed another 2.6 billion mouths. Their answers ranged from better seed genetics and freedom from GMO regulations to better access to markets, water and natural resources. Remaining profitable was a universal concern.
Although the challenges varied, Iowa grower and NCGA Director Pam Johnson summed them up well by saying it’s never been more important for farmers to stand united against collective challenges if we expect to meet the tremendous challenge of farming yet more productively.
Farmers’ collective challenge is grave indeed: Experts say we will need to use water three times more efficiently, and land and other natural resources at least twice as efficiently as we do now in order to feed 9.1 billion people by 2050. Since 88% of the world’s arable land is already under cultivation, future productivity gains will largely have to come from improved technology, genetics and productivity tools; and fewer regulatory hurdles, they said. With most of the world’s population migrating to cities, farmers’ access to water will grow more difficult politically, as will concerns about food safety and genetic engineering, they agreed.
Almost all growth will take place in the less-developed regions, where today’s 5.3 billion population is expected to swell to 7.8 billion in 2050, according to UN estimates. By contrast, the population of the more developed regions will remain mostly unchanged, at 1.2 billion. Between 2005 and 2050, eight countries are expected to account for half of the world’s projected population increase: India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bangladesh, Uganda, U.S., Ethiopia and China, listed according to the size of their contribution to population growth.
“Malthus was wrong for two centuries because he underestimated farmers,” said roundtable moderator Robert Thompsonin summarizing the resourcefulness of roundtable participants in the face of feeding a growing world.