Of all the factors underlying agriculture’s productivity gains in the past 60 years—better seeds, irrigation, fertilizer, crop protection, soil management, more sophisticated machinery—the most critical may have been a sense of urgency. When Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, exported his disease-resistant wheat from Mexico to India and Pakistan in the 1960s, he was driven by a desire to achieve “a temporary success in man’s war against hunger and deprivation.” The revolution that followed was based both on scientific innovation and a determination to alleviate human suffering.
This same sense of purpose, coupled with new technology, is inspiring individuals and organizations throughout the agricultural value chain to meet the challenges of a global population headed toward 9 billion by 2050. To ensure that agriculture can meet future needs, the world will have to (1) reduce the millions of metric tons of post-harvest crops lost to pests, disease, and inferior storage methods each year; (2) make better use of the crops and biomass already grown while using water and other inputs sparingly; and (3) increase yields on existing land in ways that minimize the need to bring additional acres into production. As you will learn in this edition of The Bridge, better information technology is already furthering progress toward each of these goals.
Applying existing knowledge and processes in regions where agriculture has been slow to realize its potential could produce additional gains. For example, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization has demonstrated that farmers in the developing world can reduce post-harvest losses from 15 percent of what they grow to near zero just by using basic metal silos to protect harvested crops. Results such as this demonstrate why we have established the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss at the University of Illinois.
To make better use of crops farmers already grow, we are teaching cattle feeders to replace grain in their animals’ rations with corn stalks, cobs, and leaves treated with slaked lime—a process first described in scientific journals in the late 1950s. And in west Africa, we’re helping cocoa farmers improve yields and quality simply by providing training in sustainable agronomic practices, access to basic market information, and other services often taken for granted in the developed world.
In our view, these simple innovations and interventions—along with the information technology, seed technology, and equipment being developed today—suggest that the world might be on the verge of a new Green Revolution. Despite constraints on water, arable land, and other resources, we believe that with ongoing innovation, investments in agricultural research and infrastructure, and partnerships throughout the value chain agriculture can meet the needs of a growing world sustainably and responsibly.