What is the greatest threat to agriculture

What are the major challenges facing agriculture?

Given the immense impact that unchecked population growth, climate change and species extinction would have, there is only one way out:Modern agriculture must do its part. It is time to rethink based on science and research - free of ideology and emotions. The answers of the past no longer match the questions of the future.

The fact is, our current agricultural production system is not sustainable enough.We do not treat every hectare of land as responsibly as it would be necessary to sustainably preserve the limited natural resources. To make matters worse, we are losing areas that can be used for agriculture - above all due to soil erosion and salinisation as well as increasing urbanization. So it's nothing short of aQuantum leap in agricultural productivity necessary. According to a forecast of the Agriculture and Food Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the level must rise by almost 50 percent by 2050 compared to 2012. He comes to the same conclusionWorld Resources Reportpublished by the World Resources Institute in cooperation with the World Bank, the UN Environment Program and the UN Development Program (UNDP) at the end of 2018: "Increasing the efficiency of the use of natural resources is the most important individual measure for food production in an ecological way. " This means "an increase in crop yields of a new magnitude as well as a dramatically higher production of milk and meat per hectare of pasture land, per animal (especially cattle) and per kilogram of fertilizer".

Often globalization or falling food prices are seen as major sustainability issues, but the data speak against it. In terms of regionality, a research group from the Universities of Alto and Göttingen has calculated how many people worldwide could get their staple food (wheat, rice, maize, sorghum) if they had to get them from a radius of 100 km. The answer is sobering: As the study published in Nature Food in April 2020 shows, that would only be 11 to 28 percent, not even a third of the world's population (cereals 22 to 28 percent, tropical tuber and root vegetables only 11 and 16 percent, respectively) . For everyone else, the plants have to travel a longer distance; for half of these people even more than 1,000 km. For a quarter of the world's population, the distance would be more than 5,200 km. The reason: Not every region has a suitable soil or climate for growing food, and some regions are far more suitable than others. Even if all food could be grown locally, it might be more efficient to import it from another continent.

According to the authors, regional food production is not always the best and more sustainable solution than global trade. Dramatically increasing the share of domestic production through political measures would likely reduce both food waste and greenhouse gas emissions, but at the same time this could lead to new problems in very densely populated areas such as water pollution and scarcity, and poor harvests to hunger or larger areas Lead migration. International trade flows therefore remained essential to meet global food needs.

"Conservative agriculture" (i.e. conservative tillage, permanent soil cover through catch crops or mulching as well as crop rotation management), which is often seen by science and politics as the key to overcoming the problems in food production in Africa, is not a patent solution either. A meta-analysis of 933 studies from 16 different countries in sub-Saharan Africa published in Nature Food in July 2020 shows that the average yields are only slightly higher than with conventional tillage systems (3.7 percent for six main crops and 4.0 percent for Corn). The greatest yield advantages of "conservation agriculture" occur in combination with low rainfall and herbicides. The study comes to the conclusion that these methods can bring advantages for soil protection, but are not a solution for African smallholders to overcome low crop productivity and food insecurity in the short term.

What is needed is a mix of solutions with the aim of increasing productivity without increasing the area under cultivation and at the same time better protecting the climate and the environment. Because if agricultural productivity remained constant at today's level until 2050, the world's population could only be fed if most of the forests were cleared. The consequence would be the extinction of thousands of animal species and the release of greenhouse gas emissions to an extent that would exceed the 1.5 or 2 degree target of the Paris Agreement - even if all other man-made emissions were eliminated .
According to the World Resources Institute, innovations and increased investments in research and development also play a key role in achieving the necessary increase in productivity.


What at first glance seems like squaring the circle, producing more food with limited, endangered and therefore conservative natural resources, can succeed. But a change of course is urgently needed for this. It can no longer be about simply producing more and more. The dilemma of population growth and limited natural resources forces us to do more with less. For example, we need novel digital solutions that are applied across the board, for example to use plant protection products specifically only where there is really a need. We also need plants that can withstand extreme temperatures and drought better. And we need more openness to innovative technologies. This applies in particular to new methods in biotechnology.

The necessary research and development has its price. Bayer alone invests 2.4 billion euros annually in new technologies for greater sustainability and efficiency - more than any other company in the industry.