Allowing farmers to use proven management practices and technologies that help them produce food most efficiently ― while allowing consumer choice ― is the foundation for reducing hunger both locally and globally, according to Jeff Simmons, president of Elanco. Simmons is a featured speaker on the panel discussing Trends and Threats in Global Agricultural Yields at the 2009 World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue symposium in
“Every one of us needs to keep our eye on what is needed to create the ultimate win: an abundant, affordable supply of safe food that is produced sustainably,” says Simmons, who recently authored a white paper titled ‘Technology’s Role in the 21st Century: Food Economics and Consumer Choice.’ “Even though the task of feeding a burgeoning world population is huge, I firmly believe we can meet this challenge by embracing management practices that yield safe food efficiently, affordably and sustainably."
Formula for the Ultimate Win: 50 ― 100 ― 70
Simmons succinctly describes the challenge and solution based on a compilation of credible third-party analysis and research, such as projections by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
“The compelling need and our best chance at meeting that need can be boiled down to three numbers: 50, 100 and 70,” says Simmons. “Today nearly 1 billion people go hungry every day. In 50 years, the increased world population will need 100 percent more food than we currently produce. While adding farmland acres and increasing cropping intensity can provide some additional food, the FAO concludes that 70 percent of the additional food needed can be produced only if we use both existing and new technological innovations in agriculture.”
What our food system has done in the last 50 years to produce large quantities of safe, affordable food in an environmentally friendly fashion is truly impressive, according to Simmons. For example, from 1948 to 1994, U.S. farm output for livestock and grain products more than doubled, and total factor productivity during the last half of the 20th century improved by nearly 150 percent. At the same time, conventional production techniques can reduce greenhouse gas emissions per pound of beef by 38 percent compared with all-natural production methods.
What consumers want
Research with consumers in the United States and other countries indicates that this solution is just what most consumers are seeking, said Simmons.
“Surveys of consumers show they trust food providers to keep food safe, and they’re more concerned about food contamination than about technology used on farms, ” he says. “The most pressing universal concern about food is affordability, which is why consumers everywhere ― whether they can afford organic foods or struggle to maintain a diet that sustains them ― must be able to choose from an abundance of safe, nutritious food options.
“To create this abundance, we must realize that the bulk of the world’s food will be raised using conventional farming practices that leverage technological innovation to produce food efficiently,” he continues. “That, however, does not preclude the use of other food-production methods, such as organic farming, which can continue to meet the desires of those consumers who can afford to pay a premium for unique production practices they might prefer.”
Collaboration is required
To create what he calls the ultimate win of producing enough food to feed a hungry world, Simmons emphasizes the importance of collaborating across segments of the food system and across cultures.
“We must not lose sight of what consumers want and what is required to meet their basic need for accessible, safe, affordable food,” concludes Simmons. “This week’s Borlaug Dialogue symposium is a wonderful opportunity for leaders of governments, non-governmental organizations, private companies and others who share the passion of feeding the world to speak frankly about what we must do to make sure we’re ready to deliver on the 50-100-70 challenge. By continuing this dialog to understand each other’s perspectives while dealing with food-production realities, we really can create the ultimate win of an efficient, safe food supply with affordable choices for everyone.”