Seven billion is a lot of people to feed, but it is also the reality of our world population right now. And with high birth rates continuing in many developing nations, we’ll need to feed more than 9 billion people by 20501. While food security becomes an increasing challenge, farmers have a shrinking amount of land on which they can plant and harvest crops.
The good news is that there are new technologies to help farmers grow more food on their existing land and increase food security. For example, production of major crops has more than tripled since 1960. The yields for rice, a staple that feeds almost half of humanity2, have more than doubled, and yields for wheat have increased nearly 160 percent3. It’s through innovations in plant science that farmers are able to realise this improved yield to help feed a hungry, growing world.
Crop protection and plant biotechnology helps farmers grow more food on less land by protecting crops from huge losses to pests and diseases, and raising yields per hectare. With farming tools and practices used in the 1980s, farmers could produce 1.8 tonnes of food on one hectare – that’s a piece of land about the size of a rugby field4. Thirty years later, they can produce 2.5 tonnes on the same amount of land5.
Our access to fresh, nutritious produce also relies on crop protection. A U.S. study estimated that without fungicides, which protect plants from disease, yields of most fruit and vegetables would fall by 50-90 percent6.
And the threat doesn’t stop once it leaves the field – bugs, moulds, and rodents can all harm a crop in storage. Pesticides can prolong the viable life of the produce and prevent post-harvest losses from pests and diseases. This helps to ensure a reliable and affordable supply of food.
Biotechnology has also played a significant role over the past 15 years to increase food production. Through biotechnology, scientists can give plants new beneficial traits such as disease and pest resistance, or tolerance to drought. Between 1996 and 2009, farmers produced an additional 230 million tonnes of food and fibre thanks to biotech crops7. Without access to this technology, they would have had to plant 75 million more hectares8 – that’s an area roughly the size of Chile.