Out of the frying pan, into the fire…

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Scientists have long warned that the growing world population is exerting greater demand on agricultural crops. For the past five decades, this increasing need has largely been met by the outcomes of the ‘Green Revolution,’ the global agricultural boom that, beginning in the 1960s, capitalized on advances in research and technology to boost crop yields around the world.

Now, a study published in Nature Communications by scientists from the University of Minnesota and from McGill warns that, without some love and care, the ‘Green Revolution’ may not stay green for much longer.

Rice yields, 1961-2008 Image courtesy of Nature.com

The authors of the study examined yields from 1961 to 2008 for four major crops: maize (corn), rice, wheat and soybeans and found that in at least one quarter of the farmland worldwide devoted to growing these crops, yields have not improved in the past 50 years. In some cases, this crop stagnation affected up to 39 percent of growing areas; even worse, in some areas, yields not only stagnated but collapsed outright.

Navin Ramankutty, an associate professor in McGill’s Department of Geography and study co-author, commented, “Any positive outlook for future world food supply is based on the notion that yield improvements will continue into the future as they have in the past, so these results are cause for concern. With increasing pressure on the global food system, we cannot afford to be complacent.”

Added Deepak Ray, the University of Minnesota research fellow who led the study, “[This paper provides] concrete, detailed information policy makers can use to identify regions where yield growth has stagnated or reversed, figure out what limiting factors are at play, then work to turn that trend around.”

Read more:

McGill Media Relations Office press release

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