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Challenge of Change

Increase Yields, Profitability, and Environmental Sustainability Simultaneously

Simulation models predict that by 2050, the world will need to produce at least 60 percent more food to adequately feed the population. FAO officials offered a more complete view of the challenge when they stated, “ …we need to improve people’s access to food in their communities, increase production by 60 per cent by 2050, drastically reduce huge losses and waste of food and manage our natural resources sustainably, so that [the earth] flourishes for future generations.” The challenge is to increase production without sacrificing natural ecosystems and resources that support food production, and while providing appropriate nutrition, employment, and economic growth. All this must be done while creating production systems and equipping producers  (which will refer to farmers, ranchers, and fishers throughout this report) that are resilient in the face of climate change, increasing weather-related shocks, global trade policies, and water and energy constraints.

To engage in this challenge, public research universities must account for animal health and welfare, as well as the social, cultural, and ethical considerations of applying genetic tools to improve production and resilience of crops and animals. Methods of production, harvesting, and distribution must become more efficient while minimizing environmental impacts. In the long term, the total costs of production (e.g., water, land, labor, fertilizer, machinery, and livestock) and their impacts, especially on the loss of ecosystem elements (e.g., healthy soils, clean water, increased biodiversity, and sequestered carbon) integrate with food and production systems. With some minor exceptions, most agricultural sectors (including aquaculture and fisheries), the total global factor productivity growth has not kept pace to meet projected demands, particularly in low-income countries. Focusing on local production would create opportunities for engaging untapped resources, human and physical, in both urban and rural communities. In other words, sustainable agriculture is key.

The Pathway to Meeting the Challenge

  • Develop local, regional, and global models that integrate land, water, and ocean use; trade policy; and ecosystem services to thoroughly evaluate the costs of production and harvesting, including environmental impacts, that allow producers, policymakers, and the public to understand the inherent tradeoffs in production systems and to form the basis for generating and evaluating options and provides alternatives.
  • Define measurable standards for sustainable production that are site-specific to provide producers with realistic goals for their management practices and that are scale independent so that they apply across the spectrum of agricultural enterprises.
  • Provide a strong, integrated focus on soil, water, and oceans health, considering impacts on the environment and management of how human activities leading to pollution, environmental degradation, and climate change affect the ability to sustainably produce food.
  • Engage scientific resources to increase the efficiency of water use, with specific emphasis on irrigation and recirculation technologies that are effective, environmentally responsible, and applicable at a range of spatial scales.
  • Develop and engage new technologies to generate innovations that provide precise spatial and temporal information and use big data to improve production system efficiencies and meet environmental standards.

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