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No New Malthus: Disruptive Technologies Will Help Feed 9 Billion by 2050

Lux Research

Technologies like crop genomics and precision agriculture will help surmount challenges from climate change, falling yield growth, and growing demand, Lux Research says.

BOSTON, MA – July 23, 2013 – A perfect storm created by a confluence of climate change, falling yield growth, and rising demand is reviving the centuries-old Malthusian fear of food supply not keeping pace with population growth. However, an analysis from Lux Research finds that science will once again help keep the dire predictions from coming to pass.

The sharp spike in food prices this century has raised question marks about agriculture’s ability to meet rising demand. Indeed, current demand and production trends will lead to a global shortfall of wheat, rice and soybeans by 2030 – however, new disruptive technologies are emerging that will avert the crisis.

“Technologies that achieved food security in the 20th century will prove inadequate in the 21st,” said Aditya Ranade, Lux Research Senior Analyst and the lead author of the report titled, “Combating Malthus: Technologies to Feed 9 Billion by 2050.” "However, advances such as precision agriculture and genomics-enabled modified crops will help dispel Malthusian fears, at least for the two major food grains – wheat and rice."

“But the high demand for soybean as animal feed means that even disruptive technologies won’t be able to meet the projected demands by 2030, creating a global shortfall. This creates a unique opportunity for alternative animal feed crops such as Cassava,” he added.

Lux Research analysts examined emerging technologies spanning the entire agricultural value chain and the major agricultural production countries such as the U.S., Brazil, India, China, Indonesia, Russia, Canada and Argentina. Among their findings:

  • Agriculture will need to go high-tech. Higher yields derived from better agricultural technologies are key to the future. Promising technologies include crops that can incorporate genes from other organisms; precision agriculture using information technology, geo-positioning and sensing technologies; and high-throughput breeding.

  • Higher yields are key to wheat and rice. Transgenic C4 wheat and C4 rice, the best prospects for yield growth, can help close the supply-demand gap by 2040 and 2030, respectively. However, regulations on transgenic crops may hinder this potential.

  • Rich nations well endowed in agricultural resources will gain. Rich countries such as the U.S. and Canada stand to gain the most in the emerging environment, notably from modified crops with specific nutritional benefits such as low glycemic index and higher linoleic acid content.

The report, titled “Combating Malthus: Technologies to Feed 9 Billion by 2050,” is part of the Lux Research Agro Innovation Intelligence service.