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Mix of farm innovations could take a bite out of world hunger - study

Source: Reuters - Wed, 12 Feb 2014 19:17 GMT
Author: Reuters
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A Kashmiri man works in his paddy field in Srinagar, Sept. 17, 2013. REUTERS/Danish Ismail
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By Karl Plume

CHICAGO, Feb 12 (Reuters) - A tailored mix of farming technologies could significantly improve global food security by mid-century as the world's population swells to a projected 9 billion and the risk of adverse weather from climate change threatens crops and disrupts trade, according to a study published on Wednesday.

Global corn yields could jump by as much as 67 percent by 2050, while wheat and rice yields may rise around 20 percent if certain innovations are paired, the International Food Policy Research Institute said in a study titled "Food Security in a World of Natural Resource Scarcity."

Widespread adoption of technologies, including biotech seeds, irrigation and no-till farming, could slice world food prices by nearly half and cut food insecurity by as much as 36 percent, IFPRI said.

The study weighed the impacts of 11 different technologies on corn, rice and wheat yields, crop prices, trade and world hunger and found that certain combinations worked better than others. The findings could help identify practices that cash-strapped developing nations should target to combat hunger.

"The reality is that no single agricultural technology or farming practice will provide sufficient food for the world in 2050," said Mark Rosegrant, the study's lead author.

Farmers in the developing world would see the biggest overall yield gains. Drought-tolerant grain should be targeted by producers in the Middle East and parts of Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, while heat-tolerant varieties offer promising yield results in North America and South Asia, IFPRI said.

Yield gains from specific technologies were higher when combined with irrigation.

"We also find that a lot of these technologies can make really large impacts on the environmental side," said Claudia Ringler, co-author of the study.

"We find reductions in harvested area needed to feed the world. We find much better outcomes on calorie availability, the number of malnourished children and generally the population at risk of hunger, and they use less natural resources," she said.

IFPRI parsed the world's arable farmland into 60 by 60 kilometer (37.3 by 37.3 mile) squares and gauged the impact of 11 different technologies and practices on yields of staple grains corn, wheat and rice under two different climate change scenarios.

Positive yield findings were then plugged into an economic model that projected their impact on commodity prices, trade and food security.

IFPRI found that no-till farming boosted corn yields by 20 percent. But when combined with irrigation, yields could rise 67 percent. Corn yields in Sub-Saharan Africa could double by 2050 with widespread adoption of irrigation and no-till.

Drought-tolerant corn could bolster yields by 13 percent in the United States and China, the top two corn consumers.

Heat-tolerant varieties of wheat could raise grain yields by 17 percent and, when combined with irrigation, yields may jump 23 percent. Precision agriculture technology was found to boost wheat yields by 25 percent.

Nutrient-efficient rice varieties could produce 22 percent more grain, the study said.

(Reporting by Karl Plume; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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