Food security could hinge on technology mix

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

Global corn yields could jump by as much as 67 per cent by 2050 while wheat and rice yields could rise by about 20 per cent 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", published on Wednesday.

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 up to 36 per cent, the IFPRI said.

The study weighed the impact 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, the study said.

Yield gains from specific technologies were higher when combined with irrigation. The IFPRI found that no-till farming boosted corn yields by 20 per cent. But when combined with irrigation, yields could rise by 67 per cent. 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 per cent in the United States and China, the top two corn consumers, the study said.

Heat-tolerant varieties of wheat could raise yields by 17 per cent and, when combined with irrigation, by up to 23 per cent.

Nutrient-efficient rice varieties could produce 22 per cent more grain, it said.