Feeding the world: Are new global agricultural policies needed?
From November 24-26, 2008, GMF co-sponsored a conference with Wilton Park entitled, "Feeding the world: Are new global agricultural policies needed?" In order to feed an estimated population of 9 billion in 20-30 years time, the world must make difficult policy choices resulting in significant changes. Productivity needs to be dramatically increased, but climate change, increased scarcity of resources, including water, land, and phosphates, and the variability of fuel and other input costs will present challenges to our collective ability to produce this additional food. The Wilton Park conference assessed key challenges, looking beyond recent price spikes, and identified a number of national and international policy priorities. What changes must be made to national and international agricultural policies to feed 9 billion people fed by 2050? Looking 20-30 years ahead, with up to 3 billion more people to feed (and higher-protein diets), it is estimated that production needs to increase by 80-100 percent. There are real questions about how this can be accomplished given the long-term impact of climate change, which could threaten production in key parts of the world and create greater pressures on water. While recent price spikes may be anomalous or cyclical, "business as usual" is not the answer. The widespread use of export bans in the recent food crisis will have a long-term impact on the willingness of importers to depend on trade. Many countries are likely to increase their efforts to become more "self-sufficient" or buy in production capacity from other countries, posing significant potential downsides for those least able to increase production. Production increases will be constrained by the availability of water and land. Food production now competes for resources with the growing biofuels sector, and the need to avoid deforestation limits land use. To increase productivity, many are calling for the public and private sectors to work together in both developed and developing countries to undertake more research and development in plant breeding, seed-coating, and disease resistance (e.g., wheat rust). Some increase in the use of genetically modified crops is probably necessary to increase production and productivity. Technical developments such as precision farming and reducing post-harvest loss will also be critical. In addition, in many developing countries, improved infrastructure and access to markets (roads and finance) would help farmers increase production. Agricultural extension work needs to become fashionable again, particularly enabling farmers in developing countries-and in Africa in particular-to use the many simple but highly effective technologies already available. Continuing and possibly increasing price volatility for agricultural commodities can be expected because of weather-related variations in yields and the variability of the oil price (to which wheat and corn in particular have been increasingly linked). Expanded development of second generation biofuels for the transport sector will probably significantly impact food production. While the conference did not seek consensus among participants, several common themes emerged from the discussions.
State agricultural policies should be consistent and long-term. Policies should enable robust and dependable markets to develop, recognizing the reality of farming-i.e., that it is private sector-driven, and small family farms and small holdings remain the backbone of global food production. China will play a critical role on both the demand and supply side, and it is likely to increase production significantly due to government policies. Ongoing political support for agricultural production is critical at the national and international level. A conclusion to the WTO Doha negotiations is vital, as it will help discipline the agricultural protectionism that distorts markets and undermines investment in developing country agriculture. The issue of strategic reserves is a matter of some debate; many participants recognized the importance of a strategic reserve for emergencies, but they were also suspicious of international reserves and interest in a "virtual reserve" fund. The conference was organized by Wilton Park in partnership with GMF and with additional support from the Syngenta Foundation and the U.K. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).