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Supplying sustainability

By Paula Matthewson - posted Tuesday, 10 June 2008

With 1.7 billion more mouths to feed by 2030, the ratio of arable land to population declining by 40-55 per cent, and 1.8 billion people living with absolute water scarcity by 2025, there has never been greater pressure on global agriculture.

Agriculture is the basis for feeding the world. Making it work is critical to us all. Many of the solutions that could help achieve sustainability are already well known but remain localised systems.

Plant breeding, crop protection, and integrated crop management are among the tools that can help increase the productivity of our resources in a manner which is environmentally responsible. They can also make an important contribution to economic and social development.


The private sector, farmers, development experts, and others must work together to further the sustainable agricultural model for farmers. This can be achieved, if governments around the world create the right policy frameworks.

Increased pressures

Pressures on all natural resources, notably water, soil and biodiversity, are increasing. Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent as climate changes, putting a further strain on arable lands and the communities which depend upon them.

Pressure on agriculture is also coming from shifting trends in how we live. The United Nations’ Population Division said that 2007 was the first time in history that more humans lived in urban rather than in rural areas. Those who remain on the land must become even more productive than before to enable access to food, a healthy life, as well as full social participation. But meeting these human needs sustainably can only be meaningfully addressed by employing a variety of models to meet both global aggregate demands and local individual conditions and capacities.

According to the UN report, 820 million people in developing countries are suffering from hunger today. This number is expected to increase as the global population grows, with food demand expected to increase by 50 per cent by 2030. Along with the need to address availability and distribution issues in the food supply, these new demands will require further advances in productivity.

Health organisations and experts are also in agreement that problems such as hunger and malnutrition will be further compounded by the effects of climate change, such as drought, floods, rising temperature, and degrading soils. Agricultural sustainability must allow for and overcome all of these challenges.

The deployment and further development of plant science offers real solutions in addressing food security and climate change. The UN predicts that by 2025, two out of three people will live in drought or water-stressed conditions. Plant science innovations are helping farmers in developing countries to continue growing and protecting their crops, even in the face of climate change. Seeds are being developed to better tolerate stresses from drought, extreme temperatures and soil salinity.


In terms of crop growth, farmers and the environment already benefit from plant biotechnology through increasing yields, lower production costs, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

New technologies, crop protection products, hybrid seeds, and biotech crops have allowed maize crop yields in developing countries to rise more than 160 per cent and almost 130 per cent in developed countries. Yet benefits are not being equally felt - in some regions of the world crops reach only 20 per cent of the level of productivity that is enjoyed elsewhere.

Along with these innovations, the use of plant science has helped to keep new areas of land from being cultivated for food production. Although the world’s population has grown significantly in the last 40 years, the area of land devoted to food production has remained virtually constant. Parts of Asia, for instance, doubled their cereal production between 1970 and 1995, yet kept the total land area cultivated with cereals to an increase of only 4 per cent. Millions of hectares of natural habitats and the biodiversity they support remain undisturbed through these efforts to date.

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About the Author

Paula Matthewson is the CEO of CropLife Australia.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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