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Both GM and organic farming could help feed the world: Report

By Caroline Scott-Thomas, 01-Jul-2009

Related topics: R&D

With the global population expected to reach nine billion by 2050, investment in both GM crops and organic farming could help to ensure a reliable food supply, says a new report from Deutsche Bank.

The challenge of feeding a rapidly increasing population has come into sharp focus in recent times. Food prices reached record highs last year and look set to continue on an upward trajectory. Meanwhile, the number of the world’s hungry has now passed one billion, according to the World Health Organization.

The Deutsche Bank report, produced in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin-Madison, suggests a number of ways in which the world can meet the projected 50 percent increase in calorie demand, driven by population growth, increased wealth, and more animal protein and biofuels demand.

"The solution is only going to come about by changing the way we use land, changing the things that we grow and changing the way that we grow them," said David Zaks, co-author of the report and a researcher at the Nelson Institute's Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment.

Investment

This can be achieved in part through heavy investment in fertilizers, irrigation, mechanization and farmer education, says the report, as well as bringing more degraded, abandoned and pasture land into agricultural use. But it added that this is “unlikely to be enough.”

Kevin Parker, global head of asset management at Deutsche Bank’s climate change advice division, said that relying on these solutions could cause water shortages and excessive carbon emissions. Therefore it is necessary, he said, to explore further options “including alternative approaches to agricultural practices such as bio-organics, radical shifts in land use and the development of biotech crops.”

Organics

Organic farming is singled out in the report as having the potential “to contribute substantially to the global food supply while reducing environmental impacts” by reducing land clearing, soil erosion and fertilization and becoming more reliant on renewable energies. However, it questions whether the organic methods currently in use can be used on a large enough scale to feed nine billion people.

Zaks said: "First we have to improve yield. Next, we have to bring in more land in agriculture while considering the environmental implications, and then we have to look at technology."

Biotech crops

The report acknowledges that the use of biotech (genetically modifed) crops is a sensitive issue, but said: “Biotech crops have significant potential to help meet the growing demand for productivity growth. For example, in the US, maize production has increased by 10 percent, and rice in the Shanghai region of China has increased from 5-15 percent.”

It added that there need to be “sound governmental policy proposals” to mandate significant testing to ensure safety before new GM crops are released.

The full report can be accessed online here .