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Symposium 2015

Solution for Food Security through more Intense Crop Production

The Challenge

In order to secure the demand for food and biomass by a growing population, the production of biomass needs to double by 2050. Recent studies agree that better crop management on today’s cropland co ...

In order to secure the demand for food and biomass by a growing population, the production of biomass needs to double by 2050. Recent studies agree that better crop management on today’s cropland could increase biomass production by only about 60% (Bruinsma 2011, Tilman et al. 2011). This may be achieved by, for instance, expanding cropland, changing diets, adopting more efficient agricultural practices, or by using current cropland areas more intensively. This choice involves trade-offs. For instance, expanding cropland into non-agricultural ecosystems may reduce other ecosystem services such as biodiversity, and release greenhouse gases. Therefore, intensifying the use of current cropland areas may be a preferred option. In fact, current studies are able to identify regions where there is a capacity to intensify agricultural production (Zabel et al. 2014). Measures aimed at closing the gap between production possibilities and current production, however, are not sufficiently addressed.

Farm management, technologies and economic incentives to satisfy future food demand

 

Considerable public and private resources are spent to close the large global agricultural yield gaps, which are the difference between what is produced and what could ideally be produced. Past increases in agricultural production, e.g., the green revolution, mainly resulted from crop management technologies and their diffusion into rural societies. In the future two interlinked developments will be central to raise productivity potentials in agriculture: the change of global agriculture into an information business and the spread of global trade of agricultural commodities into regions, which currently hardly participate. Both factors expand the classical crop-management centric view on closing yield gaps. Together these developments also have the potential to reduce unsustainable environmental side-effects. It is important to prioritize activities and regions on the Globe for increase in biomass production by focusing on increasing human capital as well as physical capital endowments. The proposed solution therefore addresses public and private entities involved in securing future supply of agricultural commodities under conditions of increasing demand.


We have studied globally, by combining a global biophysical crop model and a CGE model of global agricultural trade, the regional distribution of agricultural potentials in three steps: 1) the potentials of improved crop management (seeding, fertilizers, irrigation, pest control, etc.), 2) the potentials of improved farm management, e.g., through the utilization of the full potential of multiple annual harvests and 3) the potential of profit maximizing reallocation of crops on today’s global farmland. The results show that production could be increased by 79 percentage points (pp) (1), 39 pp (2) and 30 pp (3) respectively without expanding today’s cropland which results in an overall increase of 148 pp. The regional differences are large ranging from of 10 pp to 800 pp of overall potential production increase. The largest potential increase is related to crop management. Here we show how an integrated global information system combining satellite-based crop observations and advanced crop models can help farmers to sustainably maximize yields and minimize inputs. This is achieved by optimally applying water, fertilizers and pesticides in time and space individually for each location in the fields. This saves resources, minimizes environmental impact and increases crop yield and quality. The local yet global agricultural information system needed to provide the farmers with the necessary information flow is being developed based on information from EU Copernicus satellites and advances in environmental modelling skills. It can serve the single farmer, the extension services giving consultancy to farmers, the farming equipment and fertilizer industry and the regional, national and global governance institutions involved in food production, storage and distribution. The crop management information can be deployed to the farmers, specifically in developing countries, by using existing communication networks and smartphones.


We assume that factors 2 (improved farm management) and 3 (increased profit orientation) automatically go along with a solution to (1) because once a farmer uses the proposed information technologies for crop management he will also use the same data streams for factors 2 and 3. We show that integrating the three factors leads to a much more detailed global picture of regionally different yield potentials and leads to interesting insights into regional and local mechanisms, which explain these potentials. In the study we propose as a solution for “food security through more intense crop production” to combine information technology, satellite-based monitoring and advanced modelling in three areas: 1) improve crop management to reduce resource inputs and environmental impacts and increase yields, 2) improve farm management to fully exploit the potential of multiple harvests, 3) analyze global distribution of production potentials to prioritize regions, where highest potentials exist for productivity gains and where engagement could be most efficient.

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