That’s just one of umpteen solutions being tossed around for feeding that many mouths as crop yields fall, food prices rise, droughts turn farmland to dust, and pesticide and genetically modified opponents protest more loudly.
Right now, more than one-third of the calories produced by crops harvested globally are fed to animals that in turn sustain the largest meat and dairy consumers – the United States, United Kingdom, France and Germany.
According to German researchers, if the world’s diets continue to include animal products and the population swells as large as projections suggest, then we will be growing more crops to feed animals than people in 2050.
While the idea of going vegetarian or vegan is daunting to most, by steering clear of corn-fed beef and instead eating only chicken and fish along with more grains, beans and vegetables, the world could potentially feed an additional 4 billion people.
It’s an interesting concept, simpler than most, but not likely to be completely embraced.
Boosting Staple Crops
As we brace for a population explosion, the agricultural community is turning largely to technologies designed to boost crop yields instead of to reduce how much food we’ll need.
According to a recent report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), a combination of technologies could help boost yields of three of the world’s primary staple crops – maize, rice and wheat – by 67% as soon as mid-century.
The report, Food Security in a World of Natural Resource Scarcity: The Role of Agricultural Technologies, also suggested that these technologies can reduce food prices by up to 49% for maize, up to 43% for rice, and 45% for wheat due to increased crop productivity.
No single approach can accomplish all of the above. Instead, farmers must use a stacking of technologies that include drip irrigation, drought tolerance, no-till farming, nitrogen-use efficiency, heat-tolerant crops, and crop protection from weeds, insects, and diseases.
For example, 20% to 40% of potential food production is lost every year to the 30,000 species of weeds and 10,000 species of plant-eating insects crops must battle regularly. Without the continue use and development of crop-protection products, these pests could easily threaten the world’s food supply. Products include: insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, sanitizers, growth regulators, rodenticides, and soil fumigants that help control insects, diseases, weeds and fungi. They may not make environmentalists happy, but the return on investment is huge for farmers. They get back at least $14.60 for every $1 invested on fungicides.
The alternative is simply not acceptable. The number of people at risk of hunger in the developing world would grow from 881 million in 2005 to more than 1 billion by 2050 without such products.
At the Forefront
All sorts of entities – government, private enterprise, farmers, consumers, etc. – are being tapped to provide innovative ways to grease the agricultural chain. Some $5.7 billion has been pledged to more than 9.5 million farmers during the next three to five years.
And many companies are chomping at the bit to help grow, produce, ship and supply all that is needed today and in decades to come.
You might consider taking a look at Monsanto Company(NYSE:MON), a company that plays a major role with farmers in the United States, India, Latin America, and in Sub-Saharan Africa. Monsanto has made a 10-year, $50 million commitment to supporting agricultural development.
As one of the leading producers of genetically engineered (GE) seeds sold under the Roundup brand, its main goal is to boost the yield of core crops: corn, soybean, wheat, canola, and fruits and vegetables. The company is constantly on the lookout for developing hybrid products for farmers and invested $1.5 billion toward doing so last year.
In fact, Monsanto recently invested $300 million to partner with microbial products company Novozymes to find ways to fight pests naturally – a young and fast-growing biological market worth $2.3 billion.