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8-Misc: World needs high-tech farming to feed itself



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TITLE:  World needs high-tech farming to feed itsel
SOURCE: Reuters, by Denes Albert
DATE:   August 21, 2000

-------------------- archive: http://www.gene.ch/ --------------------


World needs high-tech farming to feed itself

BERLIN - Governments must embrace high-tech farming and remove trade 
barriers so the Earth can feed its growing population, agricultural 
economists said at an international conference on Friday. "Both the 
land and the individual farmers can greatly profit from the two great 
future technologies - biotechnology and information technology," 
Joachim von Braun, the new president of the International Association 
of Agricultural Economists (IAAE), said in his concluding remarks at 
the IAAE's 24th congress. "But the politics must be right for that." 
The congress, attended by over 1,000 participants from more than 80 
countries, focused on blueprints for the future development of global 
agriculture, with most experts agreeing that a radical shift from 
past patterns was needed.

"Traditional breeding has already captured most of the (production) 
increase potential," Harald von Witzke, professor at Berlin's 
Humboldt University and chairman of the local organizing committee, 
told Reuters. He said that with the world's population expected to 
grow to well over 8.5 billion by the year 2025 from the current six 
billion, agriculture will need to find ways of feeding them from the 
same land base being used today. "There are no major land reserves 
left: the best land is already being farmed," Witzke said. "We need 
to increase food production...(but) we don't know how that's going to 
be possible."

"We hope that gene technology is going to make a difference." Witzke 
also predicted an end to what he calls the "agricultural treadmill", 
the phonomenon whereby in the past 130 years food supply growth has 
continuously exceeded the growth in demand. "Farmers have run faster 
and faster (by becoming more productive) but economically they have 
not got anywhere because the income effect of productivity growth has 
been eroded by declining prices," he said, adding that population and 
per capita income growth in the future would reverse that trend.

"In the decades ahead, agriculture will be a growth industry," he 
said. "And it will become a high-tech industry." But governments 
should also commit more resources to agricultural research, education 
and counselling, he said. In addition, poor countries need to be 
supported with technology transfer to help them keep pace with 
developments in a more capital-intensive and training-intensive 
industry.

Witzke also warned that national food standards introduced in recent 
years in response to growing environmental and food safety concerns 
can easily be misused for protectionism. "We need innovations on the 
social science and political side," he said, but added that although 
scientists in Germany were beginning to get their message across, 
more immediate political concerns often prevailed in the European 
Union. "When push comes to shove, local farmers still have more 
lobbying power," he said.

The IAAE conference in Berlin coincides with the five-day Crop 
Science Congress which started in Hamburg on Thursday. Its organisers 
aim to draft a declaration on genetically modified foods by August 22.






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