THE WORLD will be able to continue to feed itself even in light of soaring populations and climate change, but to do so there will have to be improvements in both breeding and grain storage, according to a broker with US-based commodities business McDonald Pelz.
Alex Duncan said the world’s population was growing slower than anticipated and was now expected to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, an increase on 2.5 billion on current figures.
He said even though this was still a big increase, it would be possible to continue to produce enough food, but there must be better agronomics and improved grain storage to make up for losses due to the climate.
And Mr Duncan said water was likely to become the oil of the 21st century in terms of its value.
“There is every chance there will be a war this century fought over water, it's that important.”
Mr Duncan said the obvious driver of grain production was the weather each season, but that this was not something that could be worked on.
“Weather and climate are the obvious ones in terms of crop yields, but we can’t control variability within the weather and each year global production will reflect the massive annual vagaries of weather.”
He said global warming would also make it more difficult to produce enough food for the world.
“There is no doubt the earth is in a warming trend and that will influence rainfall patterns, and by extension production.”
Potential rises in sea levels of 5-6 metres could mean a loss of fertile arable land, while Mr Duncan also said higher temperatures would reduce yields in some areas.
However, he said with preparation he was confident the world could be fed.
“We can’t wait until things get bad, the planning must start now.”
Central to that planning process, he called for an improvement to storage and logistics, especially in the Third World.
“There’s a lot of grain that’s produced that is wasted.
“Effective storage could mitigate annual production fluctuations.”
He said many countries had inadequate storage and logistics networks.
“Take India for example, they have a high production capability but they lose grain in good years due to inadequate storage.
“You’ve got problems with rain, with insects and with rodents.”
Mr Duncan pointed to China as an example of what was needed in terms of investment.
“China has built millions of tonnes of storage in recent years and that is what is required to stop wastage.”
Mr Duncan was reasonably upbeat in terms of increasing international cropped area.
“We can increase the production base, we saw in 2011 a lot of land come online in Brazil, the former Soviet Union and in east Africa.
“You look at somewhere such as Sudan, where there are millions of hectares of arable land that remain untouched due to political insecurity, there’s a lot of land still out there.”
Genetically modified (GM) crop technology will be required to keep productivity gains growing fast enough to feed the rising population Mr Duncan said.
“We probably already couldn’t feed the world without GM, so I’d say its inevitable it becomes more prevalent.”
Mr Duncan said better use of water resources would be another crucial means of improving productivity.
“Water is the most important resource, irrigated land is twice as productive as rain-fed land.
“You look at the acreage, 16pc of the world cropping land is irrigated, yet it produces 36pc of the crop.”
He said improvements would be needed to stop wastage.
“At present, 55pc of irrigation water is wasted on delivery, irrigation practices are in need of an overhaul.”
In good news for grain growers, he said the market would need to provide clear price signals if they wanted growers to continue to produce grain.
“Price is the only factor motivating all market participants,” he said.
“Food production will increase with the right incentive – price.”