WMU News

How will we feed another 3 billion people?

Oct. 24, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- How will the world feed another 3 billion people? It's a problem that is not expected to become reality for 50 years, but it's a question that one expert in agricultural development is asking now.

Dr. Vernon W. Ruttan, a Regents Professor in the Department of Economics and Applied Economics and adjunct professor in the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, will visit Western Michigan University to present "Scientific and Technical Constraints on Sustainable Growth in Agricultural Production" at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 5 in Room 3508 of Knauss Hall. The event is part of the 2003-04 Werner Sichel Lecture-Seminar Series, which features six internationally known economists who focus on this year's theme, "The Economics of Sustainable Development."

"The effect of population growth will be close to a doubling of the demands that will be placed on the world's farmers by 2050," says Ruttan.

The causes of this problem are numerous, he says. The leading environmental constraints on growth in agricultural production are soil loss and the inability to expand irrigated acreage as well as the decline of available acreage due to salinity and water logging and a changing global climate.

"Though these problems are all serious, the most damaging might be the problem of plant and animal pests, diseases and pathogens--even with advancements in controlling technologies," says Ruttan.

During the 1950's, it was not difficult to anticipate the scientific and technical advances that would be available to farmers for dealing with an increased demand for food. Increases in crop production came from expanding irrigated lands. Improvements also occurred in fertilizers and crop protection chemicals. New crops developed were more responsive to new technologies.

"I find it much more difficult to tell a convincing story about the likely sources of increased crop and animal production over the next half century than I did when I began working on world food supply issues almost fifty years ago," says Ruttan. "It is apparent that the United States and other developed countries can no longer insulate themselves from the effects of poverty and the impending deficiencies in the capacity of the world's agricultural production."

Media contact: Matt Gerard, 269 387-8400, matthew.gerard@wmich.edu

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