Experts discuss challenges, strategies for feeding growing population

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Sustainably producing food and other agricultural products for a growing global population is the greatest challenge facing the world’s farmers today.

In preparation for the United Nations Food Systems Summit, the Global Agricultural Productivity Initiative at Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences presented a June 15 webinar describing a vision for strengthening food and agricultural systems to meet the challenge with productivity growth.

Agricultural productivity increases as farmers use innovative technologies and practices to grow more crops, livestock and aquaculture products while using the same amount—or less—land, fertilizer, feed, labor, machinery and livestock.

Productivity must increase by an average of 1.73% annually to sustainably meet consumer needs in 2050, and the “world is not keeping pace with this target,” reported the GAP Initiative. The productivity disparity is most apparent among the world’s low-income, small-scale farmers. Unless this trend is reversed, experts said the earth’s soil, water resources and forests could be degraded significantly by 2050, creating increased greenhouse gas emissions and higher food prices.

Panelists representing nonprofit and private sectors in Africa, India, Latin America and the United States discussed policies, agricultural practices, investments and partnerships that support and accelerate productivity growth.

Virginia farmers are generally on the right track, with some room for improvement, said Dr. Megan Seibel, director of Virginia Tech’s Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining Results program. 

“Farmers have a great desire to be responsible in establishing best management practices,” said Seibel, who owns Mountain View Farm and Vineyard and serves as president of Roanoke County Farm Bureau. “Because of the expense of labor and cost of the inputs, that’s where we have some opportunity for innovative improvements around precision technology and things that allow us to better target applications of nutrients and pesticides.”

The global challenges are daunting, said Ann Steensland, who leads the GAP Initiative at Virginia Tech. But productivity growth goals can be achieved through the strategies presented by the panelists, “and will ensure the sustainability of our food and agricultural systems for decades to come.”

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Augusta Health Augusta Free Press Kris McMackin CPA
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