We’ve all heard the predictions that the world’s population will reach nine billion by the year 2050—and that crop yields will need to be double, from what they are now, to feed that many people.
But one of the questions being asked at the global Water for Food Conference in Lincoln, Nebraska is, “Will there be enough water to feed the world in 2050?”
University of Nebraska agronomy professor Ken Cassman answers “yes”–but he says research on how to produce “more crop with less water” needs to intensify—and become more focused.
“We have some work on doubling yields that goes on over here. We have some work on saving water—and that goes on over here—without regard to doubling yields,” Cassman says.
“The problem is that is not likely to succeed because the answer you get when you work on water efficiency without the pressure of increasing yields is very different,” he says, “and the answer you get with how to increase productivity, if you don’t have to carry the burden of reducing water use, is also very different.”
One of agriculture’s biggest challenges, Cassman says, is how to double yields while reducing the industry’s “environmental footprint”.
“There’s no large effort of research focused on that issue. We need a massive state, national and global effort with the purpose—focused tightly—how are we going to double yields and reduce the water footprint of agriculture,” Cassman says, “and the university, the state, the nation that can do that is going to be a world leader in global food security.”
Cassman is the chairman of the Consortium Group for International Agricultural Research’s (CGIAR) Independent Science and Partnership Council.