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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: World food supply and biodiversity

Authors
item Gustafson, J
item Borlaug, N.E. -
item Raven, P.H. -

Submitted to: World Agriculture
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: May 21, 2010
Publication Date: October 15, 2010
Citation: Gustafson, J.P., Borlaug, N., Raven, P. 2010. World food supply and biodiversity. World Agriculture. 1(2):38-41.

Interpretive Summary: World population reached 3 billion by 1961, doubled to 6 billion by 1999, and according to UN predictions, will reach 9 billion by 2040. The UN projects that agricultural output will need to increase by 70% in order to maintain current dietary standards, which unfortunately includes severe malnutrition for more that one billion people and near starvation for 100 million. Between now and 2030 agricultural production is projected to increase by less than 1.4% per year, a rate insufficient to reach the goal set by the 2009 World Summit on Food Security to reduce by 50% the number of hungry and malnourished people in the world by 2015. In spite of declining poverty rates and evidence of a growing middle class in many developing countries, achieving this reduction will be very difficult as it is likely that the projected two billion additional people will be among the poorest of the poor. In 1990, approximately 1.13 billion people worldwide subsisted on less than $1 per day according to World Bank estimates, which has not changed much today. Food imports are expected to increase despite projected increased production. By 2020, wheat imports are projected to increase from 30 to 75 million metric tones (MT). With projected increases in agricultural production falling far short of the need, clearly the numbers don't add up. The manuscript deals with how humanity can obtain a 70% increase in food production on the same amount of land currently under production.

Technical Abstract: For future crop development and yields increases, several factors seem especially important. First, we need to characterize the genome structure, gene function and regulation, and evolution at macro- and micro-geographic scales for all crops. Second, we need to combine single- and multi-locus value-added traits to produce improved cultivars. Third, crop genetic systems must be analyzed to determine the genetic flexibility of various species in diverse ecological contexts, according to their breeding systems, mutation rates, genome recombination properties, and the genomic function of structural genes (primarily abiotic and biotic stress genes). Fourth, we must characterize the interface between developing agricultural ecological dynamics and adaptive ecosystems in order to characterize genome evolution and the potential for gene contamination. In the past, for instance, when modern agriculture competed with the traditional subsistence forms of agriculture, local landrace cultivars were often discarded in favor of the new high yielding cultivars. Recently, serious efforts have been undertaken to preserve crop diversity, which has resulted in the retention of more old and new diversity in agriculture than existed 50 years ago. National and international seed banks are and will continue to be critically important to agriculture and the maintenance of the world’s biodiversity. A robust commitment to increasing world food production is the foundation of food security. A secure future for humanity, our environment, and our biodiversity are intimately tied to improvements in crop production. Feeding all of humanity is clearly one of the most important and pressing challenges facing the world, today and in the future.

Last Modified: 10/1/2014
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