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Home - Global Challenges -Agriculture and Food Security

Agriculture and Food Security
A Sustainability Challenge: Food Security for All
The National Research Council's Science and Technology for Sustainability Program hosted two workshops in 2011 addressing the sustainability challenges associated with food security for all. The first workshop, Measuring Food Insecurity and Assessing the Sustainability of Global Food Systems, explored the availability and quality of commonly used indicators for food security and malnutrition; poverty; and natural resources and agricultural productivity. It was organized around the three broad dimensions of sustainable food security: (1) availability, (2) access, and (3) utilization. The workshop reviewed the existing data to encourage action and identify knowledge gaps. The second workshop, Exploring Sustainable Solutions for Increasing Global Food Supplies, focused specifically on assuring the availability of adequate food supplies. How can food production be increased to meet the needs of a population expected to reach over 9 billion by 2050? Workshop objectives included identifying the major challenges and opportunities associated with achieving sustainable food security and identifying needed policy, science, and governance interventions. Workshop participants discussed long term natural resource constraints, specifically water, land and forests, soils, biodiversity and fisheries. They also examined the role of knowledge, technology, modern production practices, and infrastructure in supporting expanded agricultural production and the significant risks to future productivity posed by climate change. This is a report of two workshops.

Emerging Technologies to Benefit Farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia
Increased agricultural productivity is a major stepping stone on the path out of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, but farmers there face tremendous challenges to improving production. Poor soil, inefficient water use, and a lack of access to plant breeding resources, nutritious animal feed, high-quality seed, and fuel and electricity-combined with some of the most extreme environmental conditions on Earth—have made yields in crop and animal production far lower in these regions than world averages. The report Emerging Technologies to Benefit Farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia (2008, PDF 3.6 MB) identifies 60 emerging technologies with the potential to significantly improve agricultural productivity in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Lost Crops of Africa
Scenes of starvation have drawn the world's attention to Africa's agricultural and environmental crisis. Some observers question whether this continent can ever hope to feed its growing population. Yet there is an overlooked food resource in sub-Saharan Africa that has vast potential: native food plants. Africa has more than 2,000 native grains and fruits—"lost" species due for rediscovery and exploitation. The National Academies have published three volumes in its Lost Crops of Africa series:

Lost Crops in Africa Volume I: Grains (1996) focuses on native cereals, dispelling myths about the nutritional value, flavor, and yield of African grains. The authors present information on where and how each grain is grown, harvested, and processed and list its benefits and limitations as a food source. Lost Crops in Africa Volume II: Vegetables (2006) and Lost Crops in Africa Volume III: Fruits (2008) describe the characteristics of 18 little-known indigenous African vegetables (including tubers and legumes) and 24 little-known indigenous African cultivated and wild fruits that have potential as food- and cash-crops but are typically overlooked by scientists and policy makers and the world at large. The book assesses the potential of each vegetable to help overcome malnutrition, boost food security, foster rural development, and create sustainable landcare in Africa.  

Global Challenges and Directions for Agricultural Biotechnology
Many developing countries are exploring whether biotechnology has a role in addressing national issues such as food security and environmental remediation, and are considering the putative benefits of the technology to biodiversity, health, and local jobs. The Global Challenges and Directions for Agricultural Biotechnology: Workshop Report (2008, PDF 430 KB) summarizes a workshop held in 2004 on the potential applications of biotechnology and what developing countries might consider as they contemplate adopting biotechnology. Presenters at the workshop described applications of biotechnology that are already proving their utility in both developing and developed countries.

Transgenic Plants and World Agriculture
If the demands of an expanding world population are to be met without destroying the environment or natural resource base, steps must be taken to meet the urgent need for sustainable practices in world agriculture, as explained in Transgenic Plants and World Agriculture (2000). In particular, genetically modified (GM) technology, coupled with important developments in other areas, should be used to increase the production of main food staples, improve the efficiency of production, reduce the environmental impact of agriculture, and provide access to food for small-scale farmers. However, concerted, organized efforts must be undertaken to investigate the potential health and environmental effects, both positive and negative, of GM technologies in their specific applications. These must be assessed against the background of effects from conventional agricultural technologies that are currently in use.

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