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Agricultural experts do not see a trend reversal

Agricultural experts from the University of Hohenheim rate the results of the World Food Summit in Rome as very disappointing. UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon called for an annual investment of 30 billion dollars to improve global agriculture. But, conference participants only agreed to short-term measures amounting to a total investment of less than 10 billion dollars.

In the 1990s, expenditure for agricultural research in Germany and Europe were in decline, and agricultural faculties at German universities still have money saving measures in place. There are some positive examples from Asia where the budget for agricultural research has increased by 4 per cent annually since 1980. To achieve a reversal of the current trend, scientists called for agricultural systems that addressed the needs of small farmers in developing countries. They are aiming at agriculture that will lead to greater produce yields with less water, whilst not neglecting climate protection, protection of species, guaranteeing sufficient food supply and the prevention of political crises.

Prof. Dr. Manfred Zeller, expert on international agricultural and developmental policy (Photo: University of Hohenheim)
Professor Dr. Manfred Zeller, expert on international agricultural policy and global nourishment at the University of Hohenheim, called the sum of 30 billion dollars “peanuts” and nowhere near enough to solve the global food crisis: “Considering the 12 billion dollars in subsidies for biofuels and 370 billion dollars spent by industrial countries to subsidise their own agricultural markets, 30 billion euros is a ridiculously small sum that is nowhere near sufficient to solve global food crises,” explained Prof. Dr. Zeller speaking at a press conference. He also pointed out that the development aid expenditures of 8 billion dollars used to support agriculture and rural development decreased to 3.4 billion dollars in 2004.

Instead of short-term measures – as agreed in Rome - the world needs long-term subsidies for agriculture and agricultural research. “The food crisis has come to a head in recent times because of short-term trends – but this was foreseeable,” says Prof. Dr. Zeller. For the last eight years now, demand has been greater than supply, worldwide food stocks are just enough to feed the world’s population for approximately 54 days. At the same time, research and innovation in the agricultural sector have suffered from lack of funding: “In the 1990s, the spending for this sector was reduced by more than 50 per cent,” said the agricultural scientist.

Disappointing trend despite encouraging examples

“The trend reversal that was needed could not be achieved in Rome,” says Prof. Dr. Zeller with regret, citing nevertheless some encouraging examples: “In Asia, public agricultural research has growth rates of 4.2 per cent and has had positive outcomes. The UN ‘s millennium goal to halve the number of people suffering from starvation by 2015 will certainly be accomplished in the Asian region.”

“We require agricultural systems that are able to produce greater quantities of food on the currently available areas at the same time as taking into account continuously decreasing water supplies,” said Prof. Dr. Zeller highlighting the challenge facing the world. He also highlighted the importance of sustainable production: agriculture has to take into consideration climate issues, a reduced use of fossil energy, the protection of global biodiversity, the elimination of poverty and hunger and the prevention of political crises.”

Competition with bioenergy will continue

Prof. Dr. Zeller mentioned concrete measures to counteract the current situation, including the abolition of subsidies for the production of traditional first-generation agricultural fuels such as biodiesel from rape or ethanol from corn, the opening up of markets in industrial countries to products from developing countries and intense agricultural research in cooperation with the developing countries.

In terms of the competition between bioenergy and food, Professor Dr. Zeller said: “In view of increasing energy prices, the competition between food and bioenergy will continue. It is important to increase research efforts in the field of bioenergy with the aim of increasing efficiency, using residual materials and plants from areas that are unsuitable for the production of food for human consumption, and to use second-generation energy crops that can be turned into energy.”

Agricultural research in Hohenheim

The Faculty of Agricultural Sciences at the University of Hohenheim has the following priorities: securing global nutrition, quality and safety in the food chain, renewable resources and bioenergy, the adaptation of agricultural production systems to the consequences of global change, in particular to climate changes and the availability of water and the maintenance of genomic diversity in agricultural production. The faculty has 49 professors and 480 staff members of whom 220 are working on scientific issues. The faculty currently runs three bachelor’s degree courses, 10 master’s programmes and one PhD course for approx. 1,700 students as well as supervising about 350 PhD students.

Website address: https://www.biooekonomie-bw.de/en/articles/pm/agricultural-experts-do-not-see-a-trend-reversal