*A complete journal article on this topic, titled "Can Agribusiness Feed 3 Billion New People ... & Save the Planet? A GLIMPSE into the Future," by Aidan J. Connolly and Kate Phillips-Connolly was featured in the International Food & Agribusiness Management Review, Volume 15, Special Issue B, 2012.
THE untold story in agribusiness for the last 10 years is how the industry has actually increased productivity, reduced costs of production and shelf prices, reduced its environmental footprint and provided a whole generation of people with access to food as well as types of foods they never had before.
According to the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO), productivity on the average farm improved 2.6% in the last 10 years and should improve 1.7% over the next 10.
The story does not end there, however. For current projections to feed 3 billion new urban dwellers, or 9 billion people globally, we will need 70% more food, or 1 billion tons of cereals, 200 million tons of milk and a lot more. How can agribusiness meet this challenge?
We posed this question to 25 of the world's leading minds on agribusiness from all continents and stakeholder groups, and their comments can be encapsulated by the acronym GLIMPSE:
G = Government
Government bureaucracy, policies and regulations contribute substantially to the challenge of feeding 9 billion people. The rules, fees and costs of establishing and operating a business can be barriers to growth and are frequently most burdensome in regions where growth is most needed.
For example, World Bank estimates that farmers in Africa could grow enough food to feed the continent -- and generate an estimated $20 billion in earnings for the government -- if policy-makers agreed to lift cross-border restrictions, simplified the rules and fees involved in food trade and permitted uncultivated land to be put into use.
L = Losses
FAO estimates that one-third of food is lost or wasted. Consumers in the western world waste upward of 10 times as much food as consumers in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. In low-income regions, the loss is largely due to harvesting techniques, food management systems (poor post-harvest storage can result in the loss of half the crop from mold and insects), packaging and marketing.
I = Infrastructure
One of the frequently underestimated advantages of agricultural productivity in North America relates to its ability to move cereals, fertilizer and food efficiently by road, rail and boat to customers all over the world. This infrastructure is poorer in most of the world, weak in Brazil and nonexistent in Africa.
M = Markets
It is an irony that parts of the world where food expenditures represent such a significant part of income can have market inefficiencies that load extra costs into the final price. Fragmented markets and dependence on middlemen make it difficult for agribusinesses to develop efficient operations and also act as a constraint on growth and maximization.
P = Politics, policies
Moving beyond bureaucracy, there is also the challenge of policies that support wasteful use of resources or subsidized, environmentally destructive practices or other perverse incentives.
Fertile land in Russia and Argentina lies fallow because of volatile government policies, while price supports and subsidized fuel and water encourage crops and herds that would otherwise be unsustainable.
Moreover, food often gets caught up in political issues. For example, a dispute on tires led to China banning imports of chicken from the U.S.
S = Science, innovation
The "Green Revolution" of the 1970s appears to have hit a plateau. The effectiveness of the agrochemical arsenal is declining.
Disease factors are an increasing challenge in animal husbandry.
Antagonism between society and scientists -- due in part to environmental and humanitarian concerns and in part to scares such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy -- has created barriers to the acceptance of genetically modified organisms.
Biofuel technology has led to the diversion of food to fuel and competition for farmland, creating a backlash that may obscure the value of the work on second-generation biofuels that is being done now.
Finally, the recognition of patents and the ability to protect intellectual property are challenging in many regions.
E = Environment
Resource issues -- and the implications for the environment -- are one of the challenges most often cited by the agribusiness community. The U.N. has reported that agriculture needs "to produce more food per unit of land, water and agrochemicals."
One of the biggest resource issues is the availability of arable land, security of tenure on the land, degradation and erosion of land. For example, it has been estimated that there is a need for 30% more grain from the fast-reducing stock of arable land. Greater productivity is one answer. Another is making better use of marginal land, as with the "miracle of the Serra" in Brazil.
It is often said that farmers are the proverbial canary in the coal mine. Without these constraints, and if agribusiness continues to expand productivity 1.7%, can we feed 3 billion new members of the planet and 3 billion more urban dwellers?
Compounded over the next 35 years, this growth will, in fact, reach the target of a 70% increase in overall food production. Climate change might throw a left hook in the fight to feed the world, but solutions to world hunger do exist.
Note: The GLIMPSE findings will be a centerpiece at Alltech's 29th Annual International Symposium May 19-22 in Lexington, Ky. Plenary session discussions will review these 25 agribusiness experts' opinions and discuss information released in Alltech's 2013 "Global Feed Tonnage Survey."