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What Innovations in Food Production Are Likely to Have Significant Impact in the Next Decade?

By Dr. Robert Mwanga
2016 World Food Prize Laureate
Dr. Robert Mwanga

“Innovations in food production” is a broad topic. These innovations are diverse and hold immense potential in addressing hunger in the world, but the main critical factors to significantly impact planet earth in the next decade must be considered first. We must immediately prioritize innovating factors likely to significantly impact the globe in the next decade. With the world population projected to increase from about 7.2 billion to 9.6 billion by 2050, it is these innovations that will help stabilize the balance of available resources on earth which have an impact on food production.

These critical innovations can roughly be grouped into:  increasing the quantity and quality of food and feed; and storing and processing to prevent loss.

Innovations to increase quantity and quality of food and feed

  1. Conserving biodiversity—the variety of all species present on earth—should rank high under innovations to increase quantity and quality of food and feed. Biodiversity is the base material which provides food for animals and plants; it is the basis for our existence. We must seek solutions to threats to biodiversity, including climate change. Mitigation measures tackling the consequences of climate change need different partners to conserve affected ecosystems. Communities throughout the world need to change their business-as-usual approach and make the best use of available land and water. Legal mechanisms are needed to contribute to policy-making to deal with climate change consequences.
  2. Next, we should prioritize enhancing the nutritional content of staple foods such as cassava, sweet potato, potato, banana, rice, wheat and neglected crops such as yam bean. This will enable us to reduce severe vitamin and mineral deficiencies (vitamin A, iron, zinc, iodine) which lead to debilitating diseases and avoidable deaths. Currently, 190 million preschool children and 19 million pregnant women suffer from vitamin A deficiency, the leading cause of blindness and one of the chief causes of death globally. The use of conventional breeding techniques and biotechnology (biofortification) to improve the micronutrient quality of staple crops and other desirable traits, especially in developing countries, is very important. For example, the orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) using biofortification unlocks the potential to contribute to increased micronutrient intake, leading to healthier families. However, the success of using biofortified foods requires the collaboration between the health and agriculture sectors. Ultimately, investments are needed to fund the infrastructure, technology and partnerships that will quicken the pace of plant breeding. 
  3. Use of modern genetics to enhance beneficial traits of plants, animals and their food components is another innovation to be considered. Those plants and animals with the potential to solve some of the world’s pressing food quantity and quality needs should be harnessed using genetics.
  4. In addition, we should use insect- and disease-resistant biotech crop varieties which provide healthier and more nutritious crop varieties. Insect- and disease-resistant crop varieties will provide more quality food to meet the needs of an increasing population. Disease-resistant biotech varieties will significantly reduce use of pesticides in farming, resulting in reduced production costs as well as a positive environmental impact.
  5. We also must create biotech crops with healthier components, including higher amounts of antioxidants and vitamins and lower amounts of fats. Scientists have started to target allergy-causing proteins, allowing  
  6. Lastly, mechanization to reduce drudgery and increase efficiency can lead to increased quantity and quality. Most operations, land preparation, planting, harvesting and processing can be mechanized to increase production and add value to different products.

Innovations for food and feed storage and processing to prevent loss -

  1. The use of solar power and other substitutes for refrigeration will help to lower the cost of food preservation. Packaging technologies increase the safety of food as well as extend freshness. For example, vacuum packing of orange-fleshed sweet potato extends shelf life by about four months.
  2. Innovations for processing and marketing will save a large proportion of food and feed.  Every year, excess produce is not processed or has no immediate market outlet and is therefore lost.
  3. Finally, entrepreneurship in different market chains (e.g. seed, production, processing) for sustainability is also important. Innovations in the seed, production, processing and marketing value chains can be led by public-private partnerships or another model, depending on the country.

In conclusion, it is essential to create an enabling environment to scale out useful and efficient technologies and innovations. Adoption of these technologies and innovations will lead to a large scale impact on production increases and provide higher incomes for most affected populations.

12/11/2017 9:37 AM |Add a comment |Comments (2)
Very important insights by Dr. Mwanga.

Aditya Parmar | | 12/17/2017 2:31 PM
Please give more emphasis on soil health and the tools [machines] to accomplish it. No more plowing but affordable equipment to get seed in the soil [strip till]. There are such tools for large scale farmers as well as animal power farmers.

Roger Engstrom | | 12/11/2017 1:05 PM
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