Challenge: Feed the World

Sustainable agriculture – global hunger, food security, and natural resources preservation

Of the estimated over one million described insect species on earth, less than 0.5 percent are known to be pests. Nevertheless, nearly $23 billion dollars in crop losses are attributed annually to insects in the United States alone. Looking globally, the problem is magnified considerably. While dollar figures are difficult to calculate, it is estimated that in most industrialized nations, farmers face 10 percent insect-related crop reductions, while many developing nations face more than double that, with 25 percent losses attributed to insects, a figure which does not factor in control costs. Far more than just an agricultural fiscal problem, though, insect invasion of crops and stored products poses very real environmental and health issues.

Simultaneously, the world’s population continues to grow rapidly. The United Nations estimates that by 2050 there will be 9.7 billion people on earth, with the population of Eastern, Middle, and Western Africa growing particularly fast until the year 2100. Already today, an estimated 800 million people worldwide go without sufficient food, and feeding the growing world population will present innumerable challenges in the coming decades. Increased population density will have magnifying effects as arable land is converted to housing, and acreage of farmland is increasingly used to feed livestock.

As agriculture is using natural resources such as land and water, and may have a significant impact on soil fertility and biodiversity, there is an increasing demand to simultaneously preserve these resources and to protect the environment for current and future generations. Thus, sustainable agriculture is a multifaceted challenge facing today’s society.

Critical Needs:

The challenges of developing a sustained food security program for the world covers many overlapping areas. Innovative solutions will be required to identify and investigate the array of questions related to securing, enhancing, and protecting our food supply. Challenge areas include:

  • Research: More research must be conducted on biologically-intensive IPM methods, including cultural manipulations of crop production, and the development of effective and environmentally sound insect control tools and strategies that are increasingly inspired by, and based on, biological processes. Various approaches to the development of resistant crop cultivars, which are compatible with further measures of sustainable agriculture, require continued attention. Moreover, the global pollination crisis needs to be addressed with research from molecular to ecosystem levels. Such research will also provide crucial information on how to assess the risk associated with new crop-protection technologies.
  • Climate change: The scientific consensus is that the world is warming, causing a cascade of issues that affect crop-insect relationships, including the occurrence of new crop-insect associations.
  • Urbanization: A continuing trend of urbanization and globalization moves many lower-income people further and further from arable land resources, making them increasingly reliant on packaged goods for nutritional needs. The current substantial post-harvest losses require higher recognition among all stakeholders.
  • Consumer demand: The changing nature of consumer preferences, the green movement, the growth of the farm-to-table preferences, a reluctance to consider entomophagy as a viable option in some developed nations, and a pervasive preference for unblemished fruits and vegetables are all factors that need to be addressed.
  • Consolidation: Agribusiness is a fast-changing business, with major multi-billion dollar mergers changing the landscape in the past few decades. This fact puts increasing amounts of power over insect-control issues in fewer hands than at any point in agriculture’s past.
  • Innovation: Development of new scientific solutions will be needed in the coming decades to address food security, safety, and environmental issues. A nimble scientific and control community must be prepared to devise, fund, develop, and deploy measures in ways we don’t yet envision.
  • Training: The education and training of IPM specialists and the next generation of entomologists who are increasingly aware of the principles underlying sustainable agriculture and environmental protection is an essential requirement to generate a skilled workforce ensuring food security and safety.
  • Implementation: Battling crop pests is not a new endeavor. Established protocols exist to survey, monitor, and control pests. A challenge is in developing a sustained response that lasts for decades and covers vast territories. The scope and scale of implementation of past efforts has been insufficient for the challenge.
  • Influence: The funding landscape for the scientific community is changing rapidly with the development of new opportunities, while a challenging federal-funding environment demonstrates the need for effective advocacy efforts.
  • Coordination: The world today is more connected than ever before with global travel and trade on the rise. Our porous borders cannot stop the spread of disease vectors. As such, efforts cannot be confined to geopolitical borders. Development of a combined regional or international effort may be required.
  • Collaborative models: This coordinated response will require the development of collaborative models that bring together a wide variety of stakeholders.