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June 27, 2009 — With the caloric needs of
the planet expected to soar by 50 percent in the next 40 years,
planning and investment in global agriculture will become critically
important, according a new report released June 25.
The report, produced by Deutsche Bank, one of the world's leading
global investment banks, in collaboration with the University of
Wisconsin-Madison's Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies,
provides a framework for investing in sustainable agriculture against a
backdrop of massive population growth and escalating demands for food,
fiber and fuel.
"We are at a crossroads in terms of our investments in agriculture
and what we will need to do to feed the world population by 2050," says
David Zaks, a co-author of the report and a researcher at the Nelson
Institute's Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment.
By 2050, world population is expected to exceed 9 billion people, up
from 6.5 billion today. Already, according to the report, a gap is
emerging between agricultural production and demand, and the disconnect
is expected to be amplified by climate change, increasing demand for
biofuels, and a growing scarcity of water.
"There will come a point in time when we will have difficulties
feeding world population," says Zaks, a graduate student whose research
focuses on the patterns, trends and processes of global agriculture.
Although unchecked population growth will put severe strains on
global agriculture, demand can be met by a combination of expanding
agriculture to now marginal or unused land, substituting new types of
crops, and technology, the report's authors conclude. "The solution is
only going to come about by changing the way we use land, changing the
things that we grow and changing the way that we grow them," Zaks
The report notes that agricultural research and technological
development in the United States and Europe have increased notably in
the last decade, but those advances have not translated into increased
production on a global scale. Subsistence farmers in developing
nations, in particular, have benefited little from such developments
and investments in those agricultural sectors have been marginal, at
The Deutsche Bank report, however, identifies a number of strategies
to increase global agricultural productions in sustainable ways,
Improvements in irrigation, fertilization and agricultural equipment
using technologies ranging from geographic information systems and
global analytical maps to the development of precision, high
Applying sophisticated management and technologies on a global
scale, essentially extending research and investment into developing
regions of the world.
Investing in "farmer competence" to take full advantage of new
technologies through education and extension services, including
investing private capital in better training farmers.
Intensifying yield using new technologies, including genetically modified crops.
Increasing the amount of land under cultivation without expanding to
forested lands through the use of multiple cropping, improving degraded
crop and pasturelands, and converting productive pastures to biofuel
"First we have to improve yield," notes Zaks. "Next, we have to
bring in more land in agriculture while considering the environmental
implications, and then we have to look at technology."
Bruce Kahn, Deutsche Bank senior investment analyst, echoed Zaks
observations: "What is required to meet the challenge of feeding a
growing population in a warming world is to boost yield through highly
sophisticated land management with precision irrigation and
fertilization methods," said Kahn, a graduate of the Nelson Institute.
"Farmers, markets and governments will have to look at a host of
options including increased irrigation, mechanization, fertilization
and the potential benefits of biotech crops."
The Deutsche Bank report depended in part on an array of global
agricultural analytical tools, maps, models and databases developed by
researchers at UW-Madison's Center for Sustainability and the Global
Environment. Those tools, including global maps of land supply for
crops and pasture, were developed primarily for academic research, says
Zaks. The Deutsche Bank report, he continues, is evidence that such
tools will have increasing applications in plotting a course for
sustainable global agriculture.
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