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2014 GAP Report® – Producing More with Less
Enhancing and accelerating agricultural productivity is a central component of a comprehensive strategy to sustainably meet the coming global agricultural demands we face in 2050. As population and incomes have grown, agricultural output has gradually kept pace with the demand. But we face a critical challenge for the future: can we continue the pace of production of food, feed, fiber and fuel needed by 2050 while reducing the environmental impact on the natural resource base? Farmers and producers in every region of the world — from the small-scale farmer in Sub-Saharan Africa to large-scale commercial exporters in developed countries — can and must be part of the solution.
Accelerating agricultural productivity is a necessary, but not sufficient, component of food and nutrition security. Other key components of a comprehensive strategy include reducing agricultural loss and food waste along the entire agricultural value chain and ensuring access to sufficient, nutritious food for the most vulnerable populations — rural smallholder farmers, landless laborers, urban poor, women and children. Governments must prioritize and strengthen programs that effectively improve the incomes, diets, sanitation and hygiene of vulnerable populations.
Understanding and assessing the potential for greater productivity is a critical first step on the pathway to produce more with less. Agricultural productivity is typically measured in terms of yield: how many bushels per acre, kilograms per hectare, pounds of meat per animal or liters of milk per cow.
To increase crop and livestock yields, producers may use a range of strategies:
Expansion — extending irrigation to cropland so that it can be harvested more frequently and protected against drought;
Intensification — increasing application of fertilizer, machinery, labor or other inputs on land used to grow crops or raise livestock; or,
Efficiency — adopting technologies and farming practices that result in more output from existing resources, measured by total factor productivity (TFP).
TFP is the ratio of agricultural outputs (gross crop and livestock output) to inputs (land, labor, fertilizer, machinery and livestock). As producers use inputs more effectively and precisely, or adopt improved cultivation and livestock raising practices, their TFP grows while using a fixed or even reduced amount of inputs (Figure 4). For crops, TFP results from higher yielding, disease resistant and drought or flood tolerant crop varieties, more efficient and timely cultivation and harvesting practices, or using technologies that indicate precisely when and how much water and fertilizer to apply. For raising livestock, breeding animals for favorable genetic qualities and behavior, using better animal care and disease management practices, and adoption of high quality feeds contribute to greater productivity.
Figure 4:Total Factor Productivity
Trends in GlobalTFP
The deployment in the 1960s of breakthrough crop technologies — the Green Revolution — marked the start of an agricultural growth spurt. Since then, thanks to continued research at agricultural universities, specialized institutes and private companies and the spread of more efficient cultivation and water use strategies and technologies to farmers, TFP has become the largest contributor to global agricultural output growth (see Figure 5).
Global TFP: Variation by Income
While Figure 5 indicates a promising global trend in producing more output with fewer resources, Figures 6 and 7 show there is considerable variation across countries, particularly when considering per capita income and development level.41
Low-income countries have boosted their agricultural output dramatically since the mid- 1980s, and a growing share of their agricultural output is now attributable to TFP or efficiency of production (Figure 6). Raising productivity in low- income countries will require massive investments in agricultural research and development, extension services, rural infrastructure and value chains and the creation of new public-private partnerships to support the special needs of smallholder farmers, women producers and cooperative producer associations. Keeping agriculture at the center of the policy agenda must be paramount in low-income countries to attract the needed investments and innovations for sustainable productivity.
In high-income countries, decades of public and private investments have had a powerful impact on agricultural research and development, rural infrastructure and extension of productive technologies and innovations to the farm level. Because of these investments and an enabling policy environment, countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia and the European Union nations have already achieved significant gains in TFP growth (Figure 7). To ensure that productivity does not stagnate or falter, high-income countries must continue to make critical investments in the key drivers of innovation and technology — agricultural research and development and extension services.
TFP growth in these countries has been consistently higher than output growth for the last several decades, enabling resources to be withdrawn from agriculture for other productive uses. A troublesome trend is the declining rate of TFP growth in the most recent decade, which may lead to slower output growth. In the coming years, new innovations in precision agriculture, disease management and more adaptive crops may help improve the efficiency of production, particularly in the face of climate change.
For the following figures, sources of agricultural output growth are:
- TFP — gross amount of crop and livestock outputs per inputs (labor, capital and materials)
- Inputs/Land — gross amount of fertilizer, machinery, labor and other inputs per hectares of agricultural land
- Irrigation — extension of irrigation to agricultural land
- Land Expansion
Figure 5: Sources of Growth in Global Agricultural Output, 1961–2011
Figure 6: Sources of Growth in Agricultural Output: Low-Income Countries, 1961–2011
Figure 7: Sources of Growth in Agricultural Output: High-Income Countries, 1961–2011
PRECISION AGRICULTURE — THE DATA REVOLUTION
Farmers are now able to use ever- increasing amounts of data from their fields through “precision agriculture” technology to boost yields, lower costs and reduce risk — increasing the amount of revenue and product they squeeze out of every acre while precisely applying fertilizer, water and other resources. Smartphones, iPads, apps and faster wireless networks are catalysts for information gathering. Technology has evolved to make just-in-time information available to farmers to help guide production and harvesting decisions.
Many agribusiness companies provide customized, analytical services to their customers. They take samples from a farmer’s field and analyze them to determine the topography, nutrient content and other characteristics of the soil. Additional information, such as weather patterns or yield trends from previous growing seasons, is incorporated into the analysis to help a farmer select the most appropriate seed and application for a particular plot in a field, and establish how much fertilizer and chemicals are needed and when to apply them. Sensors in farm equipment test soil conditions and apply fertilizer, water and pesticides at variable rates for extremely precise applications. Similar data measurements can be utilized to improve grazing and feeding systems for livestock, to conserve fragile soils and to track and improve animal health.
Farmers must be assured that the data generated about their operations are secure. The development of secure data standards and systems is therefore a priority for both agribusiness and farmers. Exciting new applications of crop and animal diagnostics are being developed for farmers in developing countries, using mobile technology. As precision agriculture is tested and deployed, it will bring a range of productivity benefits to farmers of all scales in coming decades.
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Producing More with Less