Agriculture at the crossroad: challenges for crop improvement

Lawn, Robert (2009) Agriculture at the crossroad: challenges for crop improvement. In: International Conference on Agriculture at the Crossroad. p. 1. From: International Conference on Agriculture at the Crossroad, 25-26 November 2009, Bandung, Indonesia.

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The past century has seen the rapid industrialisation of agriculture, whereby abundant cheap energy progressively substituted for both labour and land. The process started in the developed world and through the Green Revolution spread into much of the developing world. The industrialisation of agriculture has been accompanied by huge advances in crop productivity per unit arable land and per unit labour, which in turn has enabled movement of labour into urban industry and averted widespread systemic food scarcity. Productivity advances were achieved in about equal measure through both improved crop management (agronomy) and improved plant genetic potential (breeding). The gains were based on major advances in understanding how plants respond to climatic, edaphic and biotic pressures and translated through competitive pressures into lower real food prices. There were also some major costs, most particularly the degradation of soil and water resources and damage to the wider environment. Partly in reaction to these costs, and partly due to the fact that the now largely-urbanised population in many industrialised countries has lost intimate contact with its food production, investment in agricultural R&D has declined in real terms over the past two decades. Yet a range of new pressures, including rising energy costs, the degradation of arable land, environmental and urban demands for land and water, and climate change, all threaten food security for a burgeoning population over the next half century. Given its role in modern agriculture, as the cost of energy rises, food costs will inevitably follow, as recently just before the global financial crisis (temporarily) deflated oil prices. Any emergence of food scarcity would further escalate food prices dramatically, with dire consequences for the urban poor. The challenges for crop improvement are thus immense if food security is to be ensured. There is cause for optimism. The vast store of scientific knowledge generated over the past century has yet to be exploited to anywhere near its limit, and many regions are yet to fully implement technical advances made elsewhere. The huge investment in biotechnology over the past 20-30 years is only now just starting to show real promise. Even rising food costs have a positive, in that the value of arable land and the cost of reversing its degradation and alienation from agriculture all become more affordable. Nonetheless, productivity gains sufficient for future food security will not be easy, and will require major investment in agricultural R&D. Needless to say, any serious attempt to return to a romanticised past, low-input, agriculture would expose millions to food scarcity.

Item ID: 9165
Item Type: Conference Item (Abstract / Summary)
Additional Information:

The Abstract relates to an invited plenary presentation to the International Conference Agriculture and appears in the Conference Program and Abstracts. A full paper has yet to be written for proceedings expected to be published in late 2010.

Funders: The ATSE Crawford Fund provided travel support
Projects and Grants: 7300.57478.1002
Date Deposited: 30 Jun 2011 01:22
FoR Codes: 07 AGRICULTURAL AND VETERINARY SCIENCES > 0703 Crop and Pasture Production > 070302 Agronomy @ 50%
07 AGRICULTURAL AND VETERINARY SCIENCES > 0703 Crop and Pasture Production > 070305 Crop and Pasture Improvement (Selection and Breeding) @ 50%
SEO Codes: 82 PLANT PRODUCTION AND PLANT PRIMARY PRODUCTS > 8204 Summer Grains and Oilseeds > 820499 Summer Grains and Oilseeds not elsewhere classified @ 100%
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