The scientific community needs a 10-year, €80 billion euro ($100 billion USD,) investment in plant research to produce the next generation of agricultural products that will help solve the growing problems of food and energy security, say researchers writing an opinion piece The Scientist.
Dr Wolf Frommer and Tom Brutnell argue that the importance of addressing such concerns about the ‘grossly underfunded’ state of plant research – in light of a rapidly growing global population – is on par with the US President John Kennedy's promise to put man on the moon, a project that took a decade and cost $24 billion.
"Today, we face growing and economically empowered nations, energy-intensive global economies, and major shifts in global climate that together constitute the perfect storm for agriculture," say the experts. "Yet plant-science research has been underfunded for decades—and funding is projected to shrink."
The only way to address this pending problem, they warn, is to use scientific research to boost crop yield and fight plant pathogens.
“Given the importance of the food supply to economic, social, and political stability, the rationale for strong investments in agricultural science are clear.”
“Plant science has the potential to provide practical solutions by increasing crop yields; producing plants that are more energy efficient and thus require smaller quantities of energy-intensive fertilizers and water; and developing biofuels crops that do not impact the food market,” they argue.
Despite these clear risks and potential benefits, however, agricultural research remains underfunded, say Frommer and Brutnell.
Growing population, shortening supply
In 2012 the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that 920 million people—one-eighth of the world’s population—do not have enough food to meet their daily caloric intake target.
Last year world population passed the 7 billion mark, with projections that by 2050 this figure will rise to 9 billion. By that point the FAO estimates that food production will have to rise by 70%.
“And we will have to accomplish this incredible feat with fewer resources like fresh water and arable land,” note the researchers.
The researchers argue that with food supplies already failing to keep up with the booming population, scientists need to find innovative ways to boost food production.
“The next generation of innovations in agriculture can only be achieved by using the best science and tools available, be it conventional breeding, advanced breeding, or biotechnology.”