Farmers must produce more food to feed a world population of 9.1 billion by 2050. Already, 800 million people face hunger and two billion are malnourished.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has estimated that farmers will need to be producing 60% more food by 2050. However, If we continue as we are, this means that 42% more cropland will be needed and 77% more greenhouse gas emissions will be released to the atmosphere (Bajzelji et al., 2014).
However, more using more land is not an option if we want to avoid irreversable climate damage, preserve our forests and other wild places, protect endangered species and promote biodiveristy.
In addition, people are leaving the countryside to live and work in cities, leaving a depleted rural workforce. In 2018, the UN estimated that 55% of the global population lived in urban areas, and that by 2050 this would rise to 68%, with 90% of the increase concentrated in Africa and Asia.
The key to global food security is sustainable intensification. This is an approach supported by the FAO, which involves increasing crop production by optimising the use of all resources and technologies including seeds, fertilizer and crop protection products, in integrated crop management systems that protect ecosytems and conserve landscapes.
Across major crops including cereals, oilseeds, cotton and rice, it has been estimated that, if uncontrolled, weeds would cause losses in productivity of 35% (Oerke, 2006). High yielding crops depend on clean fields free from weeds, especially during early growth stages when they are vulnerable to competition.
Weeds compete with crops for the resources essential for good yields: light, water and nutrients. They may also attract pests and diseases, make crops difficult to harvest and contaminate foodstuffs. Without effective weed control crops cannot make best use of fertilizer, further limiting yield potential.
FAO has calculated that losses in global wheat production due to weeds is equivalent to good arable land more than twice the size of France being wasted every year. Poorer countries are hit hardest. Research indicated that weed competition had a greater impact than diseases or insect pests.
Herbicides reduce this potential loss by about 75% (Oerke, 2006). Losses due to diseases and insect pests are potentially 15-20% and fungicides and insecticides reduce these by about one third.
Need for new herbicides
Herbicides are, therefore, very effective, when used as part of integrated crop management in the sustainable intensification of cropping systems. However, aggressive weeds resistant to important herbicides have become increasingly problematic around the world. Farmers have not had access since the 1980s to herbicides with new modes of action, which would address this critical issue for global food security,
The mission of MoA Technology is to find these new herbicide modes of action.
References and further reading
Bajzelji, B et al. (2014). Importance of food-demand management for climate mitigation. Nature Climate Change, 4, 924-929
International Food Policy Research Institute (2016). Global nutrition report 2016: from promise to impact – ending malnutrition by 2030.
Oerke, E C (2006). Crop losses to pests. Journal of Agricultural Science, 144, (1), 31-43
UK Government Office for Science (2011). The future of food and farming.
UN Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs (2018). Revision of world urbanization prospects 2018.
UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (2009). The lurking menace of weeds (from research by LandCare, New Zealand).>