Four ways to feed the world

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					run-off or evaporation or passes usefully through crops. There are several ways to ca are lost each year, says Peter Hartmann of IITA, Four ways to feed the world
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green water in crops, including soil-covering mulches, terraces, and underground tan He says Africa would not need imported food aid

run-off from tropical downpours. In parts of Kenya and China such tanks can get a c 18 November 2009 by Debora MacKenzie You have dry spell that frequently follows a downpour. to look at the whole food system to bo Magazine issue 2735. bred higher-yielding, disease-resistant cassava an

Mapping the potential for combining all of these approaches showslimited because u but then discovered uptake was that the largest t IT IS humanity's oldest enemy. Despite all our science, a sixth of people in the developing world are to improve water productivity is in Nigeria, the trucking industry is This isnorth. Aft the savannahs, says Rockström. in the sometime chronically hungry. At a summit in Rome this week, world leaders reaffirmed a pledge to end hunger intuitive, he adds. "Dry Namibia and Botswana have more than enough green water 35 million to 45 million tonnes, on less land, from "at the earliest possible date". themselves." 4 Boost yields The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) wanted them to promise to end hunger by 2025, 2 Stop ploughing but the delegates declined. They said instead that they would keep trying to meet their previous goal: Mark Rosegrant of the International Food Policy

to halve chronic hunger from 20 per cent of people in developingturned over the 25 per cent moreto bury and kill weed For 1000 years, farmers have countries yield top layer by 2015 food would boost Af will to 10 per cent of soil (see

graph). But can they? Based on their performance so far, the FAO considers itIt mightgases. easier. "We have tremend expensive, damages soils and releases greenhouse also be would. "unlikely".

head of wheat at the International Maize and Wh That, agricultural experts tell New Scientist, is because governments the Americas their promises and plough for "no-ti Most maize and soya growers in have broken have abandoned the

slashed aid budgets for agriculture. merely scratch furrows in the ground to plantmainly thanks to scientists launched The hungry poor fell to 16 per centLast week their seed and handle weeds with herb in 2007, the world's wheat

Asia's economic boom, but recession and soaring foodgenetically modified crops. per cent in photosynthesis, no less. "I back to 17 herbicide-resistant prices pushed itengineering the crop's 2008.

Braun. "Improvements are feasible, and will dram "Ending hunger by 2025 is not realistic," says Joachimneed Braun if they smother weeds toinstitute in residuemore effic But farmers do not von those of IFPRI, a They plan with organic with such as st yield." food-policy equip wheat

Washington DC. "Halving it might crops toit requirespests, says action." be, but frustrate sustained Bram Govaertsandthe International Maize convert it fro rubisco, of with suites of genes to and Wheat Im

Centre (CIMMYT) in Mexico, a CGIAR lab. This is known as conservation agricult found in maize, which fixes more carbon per uni It gets worse: global population is set to grow to 9.1nutrients and energy, it global warming Govaerts has been managing have a conserving soil, billion by 2050, while cuts water loss. willPhilippines is developin Research Institute in the serious impact on farming. What can be done? plots in Mexico using these methods, and finds that conservation agriculture can yie

traditional agriculture in good years, and even more during drought. yields of new Braun says the key is money. The The FAO says feeding 9 billion people will require a near-doubling in food production. All nations of rice and wheat. This is because maize is bred will have to take part, but attention 3 Gobe focused on poor countries, where there is in it. Wheatfor rice breeding, by c will back to basics billion a year most room and

improvement and where better farming will give poor farmers income to buy food. The FAO says gets only about $350 million a year. Apart from Creating high-yielding seeds is only worthwhile if farmers have access to them, and farming investment in poor countries must grow from $142 billion per year to $209 billion. stagnant for years. produce for a profit. "There are varieties of maize that resist climate stress or disease

get them to farmers?" asks Prabhu Pingali, deputy head of agriculture at the Bill and Agricultural research must also increase. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Foundation. Research (CGIAR) - the international, mainly government-funded labs that perform farm research for

poor countries - says agricultural R&D spending for developing countries needs to grow from $5.1 Nerica rice is a case in point. This dryland variety was bred in the 1990s by CGIAR billion to $16.4 billion per year by 2025. Its researchers say that in theory, given funds, they can boost crossed Asian rice with an African species. Nerica competes better with weeds than agriculture enough to double food production, although global warming may make this impossible. yields more and contains more protein. But few African farmers have heard of it. These are their top priorities. 1 Hold on to water

Government services that taught farmers new techniques were dismantled during the

1980s, says Papa Seck, head of the CGIAR's African Rice Center in Cotonou, Benin The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says irrigated areas must expand by 11 per cent by 2025, back." yet the ancient aquifers that feed much of the world's food production are running dry.

Even if they have access to better seed varieties, African farmers often don't invest i Johan Rockström of the Swedish Resilience Centre in Stockholm have we need to rethinkand therefore cannot sell their production because they don't says access to markets water. per cent of the water flowing through farming systems. The rest, "green" water, is either lost through

"Blue" water, which flows in streams, is the usual basis forcrops planning yet accounts for just 5 to rot: half the bananas profit. And sold or not, farm are often poorly stored and lost to 15

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