Boosting Agricultural Production

Jose W. Fernandez
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
Washington, DC
March 16, 2012

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: It’s no secret that there is not enough food in the world. To meet expected demand in the coming years, the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates we will need to increase global food production 70 percent by the year 2050. To put this challenge into perspective, more food will need to be produced in the next 50 years than has been produced during the last 10,000 years combined.

Images: Wholesale food market in India. @ AP Image; Bananas in Pakistan. @ AP Image; Onion harvest. @ AP Image; A/S Fernandez visits factory in India. State Department photo.; Man watering crops in Cambodia. @ AP Image.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: This burst in production will occur in the shadow of climate change and diminishing resources. In other words, we will need to produce more food using less land, less water, less fertilizer and less pesticide.

Images: Soil suffering from drought in Texas. @ AP Image; River suffering from drought in Romania. @ AP Image

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: And that’s a tall order: To feed the world without depleting the resources necessary to do so is a daunting task. But my Bureau and I are looking at ways to meet this challenge head-on. One proven means of building global food stores is through new technologies, like agricultural biotechnology.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: Agricultural biotechnology has already shown it can increase crop yields dramatically. Just to give you an idea of how dramatically: Over the past 15 years, agricultural biotechnology has enabled the production of 229 million more tons of food, feed, and fiber.

Images: Strawberries. @ AP Image; Tomatoes. @ AP Image; Rooftop garden. @ AP Image; Woman on bank of rice paddy in Thailand. @ AP Image.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: It’s also reduced global pesticide use by nearly nine percent and added $65 billion in economic gains to farmers in developed and developing countries. Work is underway on new varieties of crops that are drought-tolerant, use nitrogen more efficiently, and are more nutritious.

Images: Wheat harvest in India. @ AP Image; Man working in rice paddy in Thailand. @ AP Images

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: So what are we doing about this? Well, we have a three-prong strategy: 1) promote science-based regulatory systems so that regulators can feel sure that the technologies they approve are safe; 2) we will spur public outreach to dispel misinformation; and 3) we will develop partnerships with companies, civil society, and education institutions.

Images: Corn plant. @ AP Images; Modern corn harvest. @ AP Images.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: We know that there are skeptics out there, but as former president, and peanut farmer, Jimmy Carter said, “responsible biotechnology is not our enemy; hunger and starvation are.”

ASSISTANT SECRETARY FERNANDEZ: We are thrilled that many countries in Africa have asked to partner with us in reaping the benefits of agricultural biotechnology. At the end of the day, we’d like frameworks that enable regulators assure their neighbors that their food is safe, and convince companies to invest in agriculture. Through these efforts, we hope to accelerate agricultural productivity to meet the demand for food over the coming decades.

Images: Onions at market in Kenya. @ AP Images; Turnips in Pakistan. @ AP Images; Harvest in Africa. @ AP Images

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