Searching for appropriate technologies: IFPRI’s agri-tech toolbox

Rosegrant_book_cover_crop240Solutions to the world’s food insecurity and environmental problems are numerous. Some suggest it is the not the lack of a solution that hampers progress in addressing hunger, climate change and natural resource scarcity but rather the difficulty in choosing the most appropriate solution.

The International Food Policy Research Institute recently launched the results of a new research project (Food Security in a World of Growing Natural Resource Scarcity: The Role of Agricultral Technologies), which assesses the likely impacts of agricultural technologies on global crop productivity, hunger and economic development. Showcasing the project, is an infographic, produced by IFPRI, which outlines:

The eleven agricultural innovations investigated

  • No-till farming
  • Water harvesting
  • Organic agriculture
  • Precision agriculture
  • Drought tolerance
  • Heat tolerance
  • Integrated soil fertility management
  • Drip irrigation
  • Sprinkler irrigation
  • Nitrogen use efficiency
  • Crop protection

The data used

Global crop land was divided into cells, and data on physical characteristics such as soil, elevation and weather were combined with management information on crops grown and techniques used.

The research outputs

Each of the innovations were assessed in terms of their impacts on agricultural yields, food prices, trade, hunger risk, natural resource use and land use at global, regional and local scales.

Some of the results

No till practices in irrigated maize led to a productivity increase of 67%

Improving nitrogen use efficiency could reduce hunger by 12%

Using heat tolerant maize varieties reduced the price of maize by 15%

Using multiple technologies amplified the effects: food prices for maize were 49% lower, for wheat 45% lower and for rice 43% lower, leading to a reduction in the number of malnourished children by 12% and of the number of people at risk of hunger by 40%.

Of course this infographic only highlights some of the results of the project. Alongside the infographic, IFPRI have published a policy note and also created an online app that allows users to explore how agricultural and food security indicators will change in 2050 by selecting a country or region and a technology, climate scenario, crop and water management practice. The hope is that such a tool will lead to better and more impactful decision making regarding investments and developing policies. The toolbox also helps identify the technologies most appropriate to the conditions on the ground, although nothing can compare to direct knowledge from the farmers themselves.

While technology is only part of the solution to feeding a growing world under increasingly difficult conditions, this work shows it can have a huge impact, and where technologies already exist, it can have impact in the immediate future.

According to IFPRI, the most urgent next steps are to increase investment in developing new technologies while also scaling up existing technologies; to increase investment in irrigation technologies and to develop and disseminate technologies that conserve natural resources.

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