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Vol. 14 No. 2 - April 2008

Agriculture: 50 Years from Now

By: Saikat Kumar Basu*

Agriculture has been the cornerstone of human success since the dawn of human civilization in every corner of the planet. However, in the future, several factors could pose serious challenges to agricultural practices, such as lack of an opportunity to expand land areas used for agriculture without disturbing virgin forest areas; our ability to effectively meet demands for food by the ever increasing human population; our ability to meet demands for a reduction in the use of agro-chemicals for ecological concerns; our ability to address environmental issues such as our contribution to global warming through cattle ranching and production of certain crops and our ability to reduce surface run off contamination from agricultural fields polluting adjacent freshwater and groundwater resources. Additionally, our ability to respond to fluctuating weather patterns and sporadic outbreaks of pests and diseases will also demand attention.

Future success in agriculture will depend upon judicious and industrious use of available resources and efficient use and integration of newer technologies. Biotechnology is expected to play a big role in producing genetically engineered designer crop varieties that are resistant to a multitude of diseases, adapted to different stress environments, have high yield attributes and can grow even under low agricultural input of under developed countries and enhance food security.

The recent biofuel frenzy may change the equation of balance among production of different crop varieties upside down. Although the economics of producing so called biofuel is much higher than conventional non-renewable fuel resources, it is currently looked at from a positive environmental perspective only. It may be a nice alternative in theory; but such ambitious industrial scale bio-ethanol production may have serious future implications to agriculture at large and impact the society in a big way. Farmers may prefer to grow only high value cash crops (like biofuel crops). This could lead to initial financial success on one hand, but very serious long term threats to global food security on the other. Giant multinational companies would heavily invest in buying cheap land and labour in the developing or under developed countries to keep the crop production cost low to maximize their profits from ethanol production. Many poor farmers may fall victim to their lucrative and aggressive economic trap and lose both their land and income over short term interest permanently. Higher incomes in Asia and ethanol subsidies in America have put an end to the falling food prices. Increasing wealth in upcoming giant economies like that of China will demand more meat in future which in turn could possibly place increased demands for more grains to feed these animals. While in 1985, per capita consumption of meat per annum was 20 kg in China; in 2007 it has been around 50 kg per capita per year. A shift in diet is multiplied many times in grain markets-3 kg of cereals produce 1 kg of pork, while 8 kg of grains produce 1 kg of beef.

Agricultural economists feel that such agriculture induced inflation may have serious negative impacts on the economic growth of several countries in not so distant future. The higher expenditure to be incurred due to limited availability of land resources for growing food crops and enhanced cost of advanced technology-dependent agronomic practices may force new farmers to look for alternative jobs in developed countries may lead to financial crises and social unrest in poorer countries. Without long term policy and technological innovations to support the current level of productivity (suitable both for developed and under developed countries), the future of agriculture may not be that rosy.

*Department of Biological Sciences, University of Lethbridge, 4401 University Drive,  Lethbridge, AB Canada T1K 3M4

E-mail: <[email protected]>

This article has been reproduced from the archives of EnviroNews - Newsletter of ISEB India.

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