THE BLOG
09/22/2014 02:32 pm ET Updated Nov 22, 2014

Investing in the Future We Want

We stand today at the threshold of one of the most significant development challenges of the 21st century: How to feed and nourish 9 billion people by 2050 without destroying the environment, while climate change threatens to significantly diminish crop yields and roll back years of progress.

This means farmers will have to produce as much food over the next 35 years as they have over the past 8,000, with fewer resources and greater constraints.

The challenge is all the more daunting given that three-quarters of the world's poorest people depend almost completely on agriculture for their livelihoods and wellbeing.

Many of these same people are chronically hungry and undernourished, and most of them live in Africa and South Asia, two regions of the world where farming is particularly vulnerable to the devastating impacts of climate change.

Never before in history has agriculture been under such threat, and in such demand.

Simply put, we need to achieve more with less.

This is what is known as total factor productivity, or TFP, which represents the ratio of agricultural outputs to inputs, such as land, labor, water and fertilizer.

According to the Global Harvest Initiative's 2013 Global Agricultural Productivity Report®, if annual TFP growth in Sub-Saharan Africa continues at an average rate of one percent -- the trend over much of the past decade -- the continent will be able to fulfill only 25 percent of its food needs in 2030.

At the same time, we need to bolster crops and livestock so that they can not only survive harsh weather, but thrive under severe heat, drought and floods.

And we need to transform agriculture from being a carbon emitter to being a carbon sink.

It's a huge task. And without substantial investment in agricultural research, addressing these challenges will not only be difficult, but impossible.

That's why CGIAR -- the only global agricultural research body that focuses the best scientific minds in the world on finding solutions for poor farmers, fishers and foresters in developing countries -- is committed to redoubling its efforts to ramp up funding for its ambitious research agenda.

By investing in and harnessing the power of cutting-edge agricultural science and technology, we can achieve a quantum leap forward in productivity and radically transform how our food is grown, safeguarding critical natural resources, reducing agriculture's environmental footprint, and lifting people out of poverty and hunger.

This is not wishful thinking.

Jeema Purty, a farmer in the Indian state of Odisha, is growing a drought-tolerant rice variety known as Sahbhagi dhan, meaning "rice developed through collaboration." When Jeema started growing it, her harvests improved greatly and she was able to sell surplus grain at market. She re-invested her rice earnings and began growing vegetables, providing a more nutritious diet for her children.

In Africa, drought tolerant maize developed by CGIAR and its partners has increased farmers' yields by 20-30 percent, benefiting over 20 million people in 13 countries.

In the Sahel, a climate-smart agroforestry practice that integrates food crops with trees that draw nitrogen from the air and transfer it to the soil has increased harvests by up to 400 percent, while capturing carbon and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Despite these achievements, we need to do more and we need to do better.

But we certainly can't do it alone. Capitalizing on the vast potential of agricultural research calls for collective action, pooled resources and strategic partnerships.

That's why, at the CGIAR Development Dialogues' "Investing for Impact" forum later this week, we're inviting a range of partners to join us in pursuing this commitment -- a commitment that will enable real results; a commitment that's vital to the future of humanity and our planet.