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Fall in ag research slowing farm productivity


October 27, 2009
By The Canadian Press

Topics

October
27, 2009, Canberra, Australia – A global fall in agricultural research spending
– other than in China – is slowing growth in farm output and will lead to
higher world food prices for the first time in five decades, an economist said recently.



October
27, 2009, Canberra, Australia – A global fall in agricultural research spending
– other than in China – is slowing growth in farm output and will lead to
higher world food prices for the first time in five decades, an economist said recently.

Climate
change and associated water shortages have contributed, but the productivity
slowdown is “heavily related” to declining research spending since the late
1970s, said Philip Pardey, professor of science and technology policy at the
University of Minnesota.

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“The
ultimate consequences of the productivity slowdown are that we’re going to move
away from a 50-year trend of declining real prices of food to moving back into
a trend for increasing food prices,” Pardey said on the
sidelines of a conference on world food security.

He
said most world regions have experienced a slowdown of growth in farm
productivity since 1990.

U.S.
farm productivity growth – the increase in crop yield for an area of farmland
under cultivation – had slipped from 2 per cent a year in 1990 to 1.1 per cent
in 2002, he said.

The
slip varies from country to country although the slowdown is global. Pardey
blames a lack of investment in improving crop strains and farm management
techniques.

China
has bucked the trend by maintaining agricultural research and development
investment and with a corresponding high crop yield growth in staples such as
wheat, rice, corn and soybeans, said Pardey.

Marco
Ferroni, executive director of the non-profit Syngenta Foundation for
Sustainable Agriculture
, agreed that falling investment in research on better
farming practices and ways to produce hardier crop varieties that can thrive in
poor soil or resist insects and disease were factors slowing farm productivity
growth.

“Not
every country is effected the same, but here we’re talking about long-term
trends and its down for most of the major world regions,” Ferroni said.

Figures
for 2000, the most recent global figures available, show that the United States
contributed about a quarter of $33.7 billion of the world’s private and public
spending on agricultural research and development.

Of
the $20.3 billion in public funding, the United States spent 19 per cent and
China 9 per cent.

Pardey
said increasing amounts of this spending was for research on the impact of
farming on climate change and the threat of terrorism to food supply – and not
on increasing farm production.

The
U.N. World Food Program executive director Josette Sheeran said recently that
most of the developing world is paying more for food despite drops in commodity
market prices during the global economic slowdown, with 200 million people
joining the ranks of the hungry in the past two years.