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Hoping world can meet food challenge

By Staff | Nov 10, 2014

SIOUX CITY – Can the world’s food producers meet the food needs of 9 billion people by 2050? Jack Bobo hopes so.

“If we can get to 2050 without cutting down our forests and draining our lakes and rivers, we will be good forever,” Bobo said. “The next 40 years are not only the most important 40 years ever in agriculture, but the most important there will ever be in agriculture.”

Bobo, chief advisor for the U.S. State Department’s division of biotechnology and textile trade policy, spoke to ag students on Oct. 14 at Morningside College, Sioux City, enroute to the international World Food Prize symposium in Des Moines.

Bobo said 2008 was a key year for bring agriculture to the top of the discussion agenda for talks on food needs.

“This was a period of rising food prices not only in our own country,” Bobo said, “but globally to where they’d not been for a very, very long time

“These prices have, fortunately I think, stayed high with more people discovering the importance of agriculture and more interest in the technology.

“This has thus become a factor in our deciding if new technologies are good for us or not.”

The same observation, Bobo said, occurs with respect to hunger.

He said until 2008, people in the Middle East and Haiti began rioting due to high food prices and the issue was on access and availability of safe and nutritious food.

Sustainable agriculture, Bobo said, is a key factor in food production globally.

“We’ll be seeing sustainable agriculture increasingly on the minds of governments, private industry and consumers,” he said. “It will be up to all of us to not only increase the amount of food available, but to find ways to minimize agriculture’s footprint on the planet.”

It’s crucial, he said, that producers increase the amount of food while minimizing the negative consequences of agriculture – polluted waterways and disappearing rain forests.

Bobo said while the task may seem a daunting one, science and technology have proven capable of increasing production year after year for decades.

The last century, he said, meant a number of breakthroughs in dramatic growth in food production beginning with the advent of synthetic fertilizer in 1915, followed with mechanization, hybrid seeds, pesticides and genetically engineered crops.

As an example, he said, it takes 50 percent less water, 40 percent less energy and 35 percent less greenhouse gas emissions to produce a bushel of corn than was the case three decades ago.

The rapid pace of technology can allow scientists to sustain the growth of the past, but only if they are able to continue supplying the advanced technologies to the problems at hand.

“We will need to (continue) to do everything better than we are doing it today,” Bobo said. “We will need the best ideas from organic and ecological food systems in combinations with advances in molecular breeding and genetics if we are to address the challenge (of) feeding a growing planet.

The good news, he said, is that after 2050 the population growth is expected to slow and things will get easier.

Prior to his talk, Bobo met with Morningside ag students and Chris Benson, the program director.

“These students,” Bobo said, “will, in their selected career choices, be among those to have a definite and instrumental role in meeting the challenges we face in future agriculture and food production.”

New ideas give the U.S. the ability to share these ideas around the world resulting in more people producing a portion of that food themselves.

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