On World Food Day, thank a farmer

Fewer than 3 percent of Americans work in farming. Yet, this sector of our workforce not only feeds our country, it also provides a wealth of grain and food exports that feed millions of people around the world. In fact, America’s agriculture sector is so productive that Americans spend less for food, as a percentage of their total income, than do most other people around the world.

October 16 is World Food Day, a day set aside to call global attention to the need to alleviate hunger around the world. Here in America, it is a day to recognize the achievement of our agricultural productivity.

Thanks to our farmers and food makers, Americans can count on a consistent, affordable and safe food supply. But our farmers are so productive, in part, because they have access to scientific advances in agricultural biotechnology – seed varieties that have improved the productivity of our most important staple crops, such as corn and soybeans. For example, the average yields of biotech corn varieties in 2010 were 30 percent higher than average corn yields prior to 1996 – the year biotech varieties were first planted.

Beyond America, a different picture emerges. An estimated 3 billion people in Asia, Latin America and Africa are today moving up the food chain into grain-intensive livestock and protein-based diets. This presents new strains on the world’s available farm lands and ocean resources. Urbanization is also contributing to food supply and demand pressures. Today, for the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities.

As a result, farmers are having difficulty keeping pace with the rising population. World population is projected to increase from nearly 7 billion today to 9 billion by 2050, according to the United Nations. To feed this growing population, farmers will need to grow even more crops on about the same amount of land, and with the same soil and water inputs that are available today.

Global farm production must also increase during a time of uncertain climate change. Changes in global and regional temperature, humidity and rainfall patterns will impact soil quality, water availability, pests and other factors that determine farm productivity – making it even more difficult for farmers to keep up with rising demand.

These are the fundamental challenges of sustainable agriculture. How will farmers grow the crops and commodities needed to feed an increasing world population? One answer will come through even more breakthrough agricultural biotechnology solutions – such as the introduction of drought-tolerant and flood-tolerant seeds. Another solution is to ensure that farmers around the world have the same access to these important scientific tools and resources as do American growers. And finally, agriculture biotechnology will also need to discover new seed varieties to help farmers adapt to the world’s changing climate.

Another challenge is rising food prices. Global supply and demand pressures have sharply increased prices for wheat, corn, sugar, soybeans and other crops. This means more people are at risk of falling into poverty. In a report released this month, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and World Food Programme (WFP) warned that today’s high and volatile food prices are likely to continue and possibly even increase. All three organizations called on the international community to address this situation by working to improve farm productivity through better seeds.

Almost 1 billion people around the world go to bed hungry each night. To help alleviate world hunger, it is critical we provide farmers around the world with the same scientific tools and knowledge available to American farmers. On World Food Day, remember to thank your local farmer, legislator, or neighbor for doing their part to ensure a plentiful food supply here at home. But remember, also, that farmers everywhere need access to the same biotechnology solutions that benefit America’s economy and contribute to our growing, sustainable food supply. For more information on the benefits of agricultural biotechnology, visit www.whybiotech.com.