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close this bookAid to Agriculture: Reversing the Decline - Food Policy Report (IFPRI, 1993, 24 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentPreface
View the documentPayoffs to Investment in Agriculture
View the documentRole of Aid in Agricultural Investment
View the documentChanging Patterns of External Assistance to Agriculture
View the documentTrends and Outlooks for Major Donors
View the documentDeveloping-Country Responses
View the documentReasons for the Decline
View the documentProspects for the Future
View the documentConclusions

Prospects for the Future

Population Growth and Food Needs

Despite the addition of over 1.8 billion people to the world's population in the past 25 years, global per capita food supplies have risen, primarily because of the success of agricultural research and development investments. However, per capita food supplies in many low-income countries have barely increased, and about 790 million people currently are undernourished.32 Demands for food have been partially met by food imports, but even though developing countries as a whole doubled their per capita imports between the early 1960s and the late 1980s, they were not successful in filling the widening gap between supply and need.

32. FAO, Food Outlook 7 (July 1992).

The world's population, currently about 5.3 billion, is projected to grow to 6.3 billion by the year 2000 and to 8.5 billion by 2025.33 Meeting future world food demands will require production to increase continuously. Unless a major change in trade and aid patterns occurs, much of the increase in needed food production will have to be produced by developing countries themselves.

33. United Nations Fund for Population Activities. The State of World Population (New York: United Nations, 1990).

Currently, developing countries are not expected to meet the projected demand. Technically, they could meet their food needs by purchasing surpluses from industrialized countries, but they lack the financial resources. Developing countries must be helped to grow their own food, not only to meet their projected food needs, but also to create jobs and economic growth.

The problem is particularly acute in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the food situation is expected to worsen in the coming years as the gap between supply and need widens.34 Filling the projected gap in Sub-Saharan Africa's basic food staples would require the annual production growth rate to more than double, which is unlikely at the present time.

34. J. von Braun and L. Paulino, "Food in Sub-Saharan Africa: Trends and Policy Challenges for the 1990s," Food Policy 15 (December 1990).

Increasing Yields Critical

Future growth in food supplies must come from yield-increasing technological change. Expanding production into new areas has reached its limits. Agriculture has already moved into marginal zones, including high-altitude watershed zones, drought- and desertification-prone areas, and rain forests, where sustainable production is not feasible with current levels of technology and where there are long-term negative environmental consequences. Technological change and education will contribute more to growth than area, population, and capital expansion.35

35. U. Lele and J. Mellor, "Agricultural Growth, Its Determinants, and Their Relationship to World Development" in Agriculture and Governments in an Interdependent World, ed. A. Maunder and A. Vald(Aldershot: Dartmouth Publishing Company, 1990).

Increasing yields per unit of land will require new technological innovations that are effectively disseminated to farmers. Achieving higher yields is increasingly difficult. The yield growth rates for rice in Asia, for instance, declined sharply in the 1980s, from an annual growth rate of 2.6 percent in the 1970s to 1.5 percent in 1981-90. At the same time, the top yield levels achieved on research station test plots have been declining, and the gap between yields at research stations and those in farmers' fields has narrowed. This suggests that there is little prospect for increasing yields through current technologies.36

36. P. L. Pingali and M. Rosegrant, "Confronting the Environmental Consequences of the Green Revolution in Asia," paper presented at the 1993 American Agricultural Economics Association-IFPRI Pre-Conference on Post-Green Revolution Agricultural Development Strategies in the Third World: What Next?, Orlando, Fla., U.S.A., 1993.

Maintaining and accelerating yields will be difficult without a concerted national and international effort. A sustained green revolution requires a sustained investment for these purposes. The international agricultural research system that forms the CGIAR has a key role to play in meeting this need. International and national agricultural training institutions and universities have a long-term role to play in providing the skilled manpower to accelerate technological innovation. Farmers need to be educated so they can implement the more skill-intensive technologies that will produce higher yields.

If not pursued in a sustainable manner, the costs to the environment of increasing agricultural output over the foreseeable future will be great. And the major environmental strains of agricultural growth will be borne by the developing countries. Global responsibility is needed to develop the complex and expensive technologies required for sustainable agricultural production. Such technologies cannot be developed by individual developing countries alone.