High-Level Expert Forum on How to Feed the World in 2050

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The High-Level Expert Forum on How to Feed the World in 2050 was held at the headquarters of the FAO in Rome on October 12 and 13, 2009.[1] The event was chaired by Hafez Ghanem, Assistant Director-General, Economic and Social Development, FAO. Interestingly, while the background document for the forum mentions biotechnology only once, it also clearly calls for increased use of technology as a means to increase agricultural yields. What kinds of technology? The choice of Robert Paarlberg as moderator of the "The technology challenge: Increasing productivity and protecting the environment" panel (with a representative from the Syngenta Foundation as a panelist on the same panel) is significant, as Paarlberg is one of the most outspoken advocates for biotechnology. The background document also mentions the need for conventional crop breeding techniques and fertilizer use, but never uses the words "organic" or "agroecology."[2]

Issue Brief: How to Feed the World in 2050

The Issue Brief "How to Feed the World in 2050" used as a background document for the 2009 forum predicts a world in 2050 with a population of 9.1 billion, 70% of which will be urban. It predicts a required 70% increase in food production to feed the world at that time, an estimate from the FAO based on increased consumption of grain-fed animal products. Given those assumptions, the Issue Brief calls for an increase in annual cereal production to about 3 billion tonnes (from 2.1 billion in 2009) and an increase of annual meat production by over 200 million tonnes, reaching 470 million tonnes.[2]

Thus, the focus of the brief then shifts to how to increase cereal production. There are two ways to increase food production, increasing the land used for cultivation, or increasing yields reaped per acres of land. The issue brief expresses hope that developing countries can achieve 80% of increased production on existing land, with only a 20 percent expansion in land used for agriculture. It then recommends the use of technology to achieve this yield increase. "To respond to those demands, farmers will need new technologies to produce more from less land, with fewer hands." It notes that "Climate change and increased biofuel production represent major risks for long-term food security."[2]

In order to achieve a 70 percent increase in food production, the document says three things are needed:

"First, investment in developing country agriculture has to increase by at least 60 percent over current levels through a combination of higher public investment and better incentives for farmers and the private sector to invest their own resources. Second, greater priority has to be given to agricultural research, development and extension services in order to achieve the yield and productivity gains that are needed to feed the world in 2050. Third, global markets have to function effectively as food security for an increasing number of countries will depend on international trade and access to a stable supply of imports.[2]

The Global Land Grab

The document mentions the global land grab:

"Foreign investors seem to be particularly interested in making direct investment in land, either through outright ownership or long-term leases. Purchases and leasing of agricultural land in Africa by foreign investors for food production in support of their food security strategies has attracted most attention recently, but it is only one of a variety of actual or planned investment flows. This development involves complex and controversial issues – economic, political, institutional, legal and ethical – that need to be addressed by policy- makers. These relate to effects on food security, poverty reduction, rural development, technology and access to resources, especially land. Developing countries also need to improve their capacity to manage the process of foreign investment in land and processing industries. The policy of the host country is critical in determining the rules for such investments, including standards for short, medium and long-term contract farming arrangements and the form of land tenure. The possibility of an international Code of Conduct could be explored in this rapidly changing field."[2]

Genetically Modified Crops

Here is what the document says on biotechnology and genetically modified organisms:

"In 2008, genetically modified crops were cultivated on 800 million hectares in 25 countries (15 developing and 10 developed countries). Herbicide tolerant soybeans are the major genetically modified crop, occupying 53 percent of the totally area under genetically modified crops, followed by maize (30 percent), cotton (12 percent) and canola (5 percent). So far, the acceptability of transgenic crops continues to be controversial in many societies, including those of developing countries. In others, the related trade risks are considered too high. To date, many developing countries do not have the technical and regulatory capacity to assess the benefits and costs of modern biotechnology in their domestic agriculture and eventually to monitor the inclusion of transgenic crops in their agriculture. However, some major developing countries (China, Brazil, India) have been making great strides in agricultural R&D."[2]

Food Price Volatility and International Trade

The document mentions the recent spikes in food prices and the hunger and food insecurity they caused around the world. However, rather than calling for an alternative to the current deregulated "free trade" paradigm, it only calls for increased food production by developing countries:

"Low-income food deficit countries need to reduce their vulnerability to international market shocks - and this preferably not through erection of new trade barriers but through investment in productive capacity and risk management. So long as they do not succeed in improving their overall economic and socio-political stability, they are likely to remain dependent on short-term external assistance. Many of them, especially LDCs in Africa, have become more food-import dependent without becoming more productive in their own agricultural producing sectors, or without expanding other export sectors to be able to counteract their import dependency. As a result, they have become more exposed to international market instability with the result that poor households are extremely vulnerable to the risk of short-term increases of prices of basic food stuffs."

Panels and Speakers

Speakers included:[3]

  • Welcome: Jacques Diouf, Director-General, FAO
  • Keynote: Alain de Janvry, Professor, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California at Berkeley

Panel 1: Global Agriculture towards 2050: The Outlook for Food and Agriculture in a Dynamically Changing Economic and Demographic Environment

Panel 2: Available Resources (land, water, genetics), limits and challenges from climate change and new demands (bioenergy)

Panel 3: The technology challenge: Increasing productivity and protecting the environment

Panel 4: Investment needs, sources and instrument

Panel 5: The policy challenge: Support, trade, aid and investment policies

  • Presenter: Gerard Viatte, Former Director of OECD Agriculture
  • Moderator: Ivy Drafor, Methodist University College of Ghana
  • Ken Ash, Director Trade and Agriculture, OECD
  • Elenita Dano, Senior Advisor, Third World Network
  • Alain de Janvry, Professor, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California at Berkeley
  • Eugenio Diaz Bonilla, Excecutive Director for Argentina and Haiti, Inter American Development Bank
  • Martin Khor, Executive Director, The South Center
  • Albert Ramdin, Assistant Secretary General, Organization of American States

Panel 6: Special Session on Africa

Panel 7: Towards eliminating hunger

  • Closing Address: Jacques Diouf, Director General, FAO

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