Agriculture: Getting smart to feed us all


By Lu
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reported in 2009 that our food production must increase by 70% by 2050 to feed the forecast population of 9.6 billion.
Facing with limited natural resources and the negative impacts of climate change, we are deploying technologies and implement policies to increase productivity in raising crops and livestock to feed us all.
Use of advanced technology and controlled management
Farmers everywhere are using information technology and sensors to measure and collect timely and accurate data. They also harness analytic tools to determine when, where and how much in growing plants and animals.
In modern farms, sowing, watering, fertilizing and harvesting are controlled by computers. Sensors and detectors are planted to monitor soil moisture and nutrient contents, and the right amount of water and fertilizer are automatically fed to the crops. Also data from sensors and Global Position Systems (GPS) give pictures of soil density, which can map into accurate areas for sowing seeds by machines or spraying fertilizers by flying planes.
Sensors hang around cattle necks or planted inside their bodies to monitor fitness and activity conditions and send early warning of any problems. Fish farms (tanks or enclosures to raise fish), a major source of fish supplies, also deploy monitor systems to keep fish healthy and productive.
All these advanced technology measures, coupled with tightly controlled management, save money and raise productivity to keep us fed.
Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA)
Global warming due to burning of fossil fuels from human activities had already led to frequent draughts and severe storms and affected the growth of crops and livestock. At the same time, farming activities are found to account for the rise of global temperature and generate greenhouse gas.
In recent years, governments and farm equipment and fertilizer makers are committed to climate-smart initiatives. They devise strategies and implement measures to manage crops, livestock, forests and fisheries that address the challenges of food security and climate change.
Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) fostered by the World Bank aims to increase productivity to produce more food, to enhance resilience against drought, pests and disease and reduce carbon emission from plants or deforestation.
The World Bank has been supporting CSA projects in various countries, especially in developing nations. Results are positive. Crop production yields are increased, farming costs are reduced and environments are kept green.
Genetic Modification: Is it safe?
A controversial technology to increase crop productivity is to modify the genes of growing foods. Genetic modified foods are foods produced from organisms that have changes introduced into their DNA using techniques allowing the introduction of new traits, such as DNA from bacterium, plant or animal.
Genetic modification technology has been used in large scale agriculture crops, mostly in maize, soya beans and cotton. Two types of genes are added, both from bacteria, to protect crops from insects and herbicides.
Genetic modifications can cause crops to adapt to climate change. Genetically modified sugar canes can withstand droughts for a few months. Rice growing near sea, with genes from plants thriving in salt water, can survive in higher concentration of salt water.
There has been little evidence that eating genetic modified crops is harmful to health or cause environmental damage. However, consumers do not like food labeled with genetic modification. Some health organizations point out that the long term effect from eating genetically modified foods is not thoroughly researched.
Balanced development in developing countries
High income countries accounted over 50% of public expenditure on agriculture research and development. They are more advanced in applying machines and technologies and hence are more productive than the developing countries.
So the challenge to feed the whole population will be for the developing countries to catch up, at the least to improve famine for the poorer areas. World Bank organization and some rich countries have been funding climate smart projects mentioned above for those developing countries.
International organizations and national governments used to play major roles in carrying out research and development, sharing results and transferring technologies. There is now a gradual shift to private companies managing the life cycle of farming from research, sowing seeds to day to day operations. Private companies are also the main parties in genetic modifications which have potential to increase food production in future.
11% Productivity from 2009 – 2015
Since United Nation’s prediction in 2009 (that food production must increase 70% in 2050), the cereal production in 2015 increased by 11% in a six year period. These are good signs. The world is moving in the right direction to feed us fuller and better in future.