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Many more mouths to feed by 2050

Photo By Dustin Hoffmann

The population is growing. There is no disputing this fact. The latest information estimates a global population of nine to ten billion by 2050. That is a lot of mouths to feed. Last week, at the World Food Prize, CGIAR launched a new initiative called, “Crops to End Hunger.” It is an ambitious program aimed at finding ways to make agriculture meet the food, nutrition, and income needs of both producers and consumers around the globe.

Elwyn Grainger-Jones is the Executive Director of CGIAR, and he tells us about their vision for 2050 and the future of agriculture around the world. He starts by telling us the core principles of the “Crops to End Hunger” campaign.

So often, when we think of finding ways to feed the world, the focus seems to go on to corn, wheat, and rice. However, Grainger-Jones says it isn’t just about those three main staples. We do need to find ways to grow those crops more efficiently, but they are also opening the initiative to find improvements for over 20 different staple crops.

Much of the discussion, last week, was about bringing everyone together to find solutions. Many times, we have seen environmentalists and agriculture butt heads over the climate and the future of the planet. The focus at the World Food Prize was to stop being odds with each other and find ways to solve the problems. Farmers around the world are having to adapt to changes in their operations. We heard last week, about potato farmers in the Andes mountains who are having to move their farms further up the hills to find the proper growing conditions to produce their products. Soil degradation and weather patterns have changed for many farmers around the globe.

In the 20th century, we got pretty good at “divide and conquer.” The idea that if we break the problems up in pieces, they will be easier to fix. We are now discovering we cannot do this and be effective in feeding the world. There are so many elements in play, which can affect production agriculture. We deal with not only climate, but politics, urbanization, mass migration, and much more. These aren’t separate pools we are dropping stones into. It is a vast ocean, and every part is connected. Alaska and Hawaii are two totally different states and regions, yet they are affected by the same Pacific Ocean. It is that kind of intertwining relationship.

Elwyn Grainger-Jones touched on how, “climate-positive agriculture”, is a goal they are working on with several partners, including Corteva. He says we have seen agricultural practices change around the globe, even right here in Iowa and other parts of the corn belt. The goal is finding ways to produce more food and let farmers of all sizes earn a living doing what they do.

Grainger-Jones says changing how we can feed the world starts with changing how people think about the world around them. He says, “If you go to a farm meeting and people are complaining about the crazy weather, they are talking about climate change.” The weather is probably one of the most common topics for farmers all over the world. It is the common denominator that links us all together.

During one breakout session, a question was asked of a Bayer Crop Sciences representative. They were asked why Bayer would be involved with a particular crop that wasn’t the typical “corn & soybeans”. The representative said Bayer is not just interested in certain crops, they are also interested in technology. If the technology they provide can help farmers across the world improve their usages of the soil, the water, and produce more food, then it is a win for everybody. He mentioned they can also help find ways to help small-holder farmers fight pests and diseases. Elwyn Grainger-Jones commented on how excited he was for the advancements in technology which are helping these farmers in developing countries, farm better.

Another goal of being able to feed nine or ten billion people efficiently lies in getting the right nutrition to people. This is a problem all over the world. Grainger Jones calls the current food supply system dysfunctional. He says a third of the population isn’t getting enough nutrients, and another third is getting the wrong nutrients.

Grainger-Jones says events like the World Food Prize give a chance for groups and companies to interact, who would normally never sit in each other’s offices. It is creating partnerships to move the future of agriculture, and nutrition forward. He adds that farmers are on the front lines of the problems the world is going to face, but they are also on the front lines for the solutions which can drive the world forward and keep agriculture sustainable and profitable for the next generations.

By 2050, we are going to have significantly more mouths to feed. There is no way around it. We have a vast capability to feed the world, now. If we start working now, we can make it easier on ourselves, the population, and the planet. We need to find ways to improve agriculture, protect farmers and the planet, and make sure the food being produced, is getting to those who need it.