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Global Agriculture Able To Feed Growing World Population

30 November 2011

THE NETHERLANDS - Global agriculture, with the Netherlands leading the way, is demonstrably more prolific, better and cleaner than in preceding years. Agriculture may be more productive more efficient, thereby leaving more land for nature. And the damage caused to the environment by farming has dropped considerably, says Rudy Rabbinge, University Professor Sustainable Development and Food security, Wageningen University, in his farewell address.

Prof. Rabbinge indicates that enormous leaps in knowledge and insight into this area may ensure that enough food will be available to feed the growing world population. However, ineffective policy, unequal distribution of production and poor food distribution still leads to a billion people going hungry. It is a disgrace that warrants a world-wide reaction, he said in his farewell speech entitled Hindsights in perspective. We do not need extra agricultural land in order to feed the world population in the coming decades, says Rabbinge. To his mind, the notion of a present or future shortage is a misunderstanding: this is not the case anywhere in the world, except in China.

Prof. Rabbinge details how he and his staff, first as Professor of Crop Ecology, then of Theoretical Production Ecology and later as Professor of Sustainable Development and Food Security, were able to use budding insight into biological systems to contribute to prospects for world food security, with less pollution, erosion and other non-sustainable threats.

Energy systems are being developed that differ greatly from the current large-scale production. Rabbinge refers to the energy-producing greenhouse (which could be operational in the coming years), energy-neutral buildings and small-scale power generation by means of bio-solar cells.

If agricultural production is concentrated at the well-endowed locations, geared up to high production, the world will be in a position both to sustain agro-biodiversity (the combination of natural plague control and biological control mechanisms in the fields) and to secure areas of agricultural land for nature.

The historical trends in productivity, the huge opportunities that still exist and the growing will and new institutions fully justify this optimism. Scientific analysis, whether fundamental or applied, form the basis for these opportunities. This is of vital importance in the fragile relationship between science and policy, according to Prof. Rabbinge.

Prof. Rabbinge asserts that science must support policy and political decision-making by providing explicit ranges of options, based on facts, challenges and concrete measures and not on what he calls lip service and good intentions. In his opinion, society would benefit from quantifiable and concrete prospects for action, without prejudices, dogmas, blockades and myths.

These choices and scenarios must make clear that if we want to save the maximum amount of agricultural land for nature and preserving biodiversity, for example, agriculture will have to adapt to making more efficient use of less land, in the realisation that that this will require more energy per unit of area but less per unit of product.

In this respect aiming at low external input agriculture is neither good for the environment nor good for biodiversity. Another example of a wrong choice is the use of biofuel generated from grain or biomass. Rabbinge calls this extraordinarily unsustainable and sees no point in measures to stimulate the production of biodiesel.

Prof. Rabbinge concludes his argument by calling on young scientists to support a new movement to tackle the disgraceful situation whereby food has become inaccessible to parts of the world population, thereby helping to eradicate hunger.

TheCropSite News Desk

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