Friday, January 17, 2014


The ever expanding population globally has raised specters of famine, hunger and high mortality in the coming years. This is because of the perception that the pace at which food production is increasing is not in tune with population growth. There are conflicting views regarding the ability of mankind to repeat the story of Green Revolution with one section of pundits optimistic about the future prospects while others are not so sure. Added to this, inequality in availability of food among people in different economic strata, makes the situation more confusing. If one goes by average figures probably what is produced to day should be sufficient to meet the per capita need of every denizen in the world. But taking umbrage under this can be just self-defeating. Here is a macro view of the future food possibilities as being projected by  some scientists in the US

"The UNL study indicates that about 30% of major global cereal crops -- including rice, wheat and corn -- may have already reached their maximum yields. In fact, yields of these crops seem to have already hit a plateau and some are already decreasing, especially in eastern Asia, Europe and the United States. "We found widespread deceleration in the relative rate of increase of average yields of the major cereal crops during the 1990-2010 period in countries with greatest production of these crops," says an article based on the study in Nature Communications. The article notes that there was a noticeable plateau or drop in crop yields in 44% of examined cases, which together accounted for 31% of total global rice, wheat and corn production.
In the past, previous projections of future food production trends were based largely on positive assumptions about yields: that food production would grow in tandem with the human population, as it has historically. Past trends were often dictated by the development of technologies or breakthroughs that enabled increases in crop yields, such as specialized varieties of wheat and rice, irrigation infrastructure and commercial fertilizers and pesticides. Even with continued use of these technologies, the UNL researchers found crop yields were still stabilizing or decreasing, even in areas that have been prolifically productive in the past. At the same time, the human population is expected to add another 2 billion over the next few decades -- reaching 9 billion by midcentury. Considering that the global population gets 75% of its dietary nourishment from four crops that include corn, wheat and rice, the study could have serious implications for food security. This is not even considering climate change, which might further compromise yields. "On a global scale, we can see pretty clearly significant changes in the weather for most places where we grow crops," agricultural scientist David Lobell of Stanford University's Woods Institute for the Environment told Scientific American in June 2011. "Those changes are big enough to sum up to pretty big losses for wheat and corn." UNL researchers calculated that the stagnation and decline of cereal crops could affect 33% of major rice-producing countries and 27% of major wheat-producing countries. China experienced a 64% decline in the rate of corn yield increases between 2010 and 2011, and its wheat yields have remained relatively static. The United States has also maintained a linear yield of corn in recent years despite a 58% increase in research and development funding for the crop".

There is some logic in the analysis of the above scientists and they have cited the declining trend of productivity from land as the major reason for the skepticism. The powerful GMO lobby is exploiting this situation by pushing their technology as an answer for future without substantiating their claim of the ability of GM technology to increase productivity significantly.There are some who even propose tapping unusual foods such as that from insects to augment global food supply! Sadly no thought is being given to optimum use of existing production capacity and large scale diversion of wheat and corn for animal feeds and alcohol production can be termed as criminal in the face of global hunger realities. If the productivity of land is diminishing due to limitation of technologies or destruction of soil health due to mono culture cultivation in many countries, what could be the alternative options to mankind? Probably cutting down on meat production and consumption which has a bearing on the worsening of global weather conditions and net availability of food grains for human consumption, may be one option. On a long term basis reclaiming soil health and use of multi culture agricultural practices may be another option. Unless international community put their heads together, pool their resources, make some sacrifices, there may not be any hope for future.    


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