Challenges for Agricultural Research

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04 jan 2011
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9789264090101 (PDF) ;9789264090095(imprimé)

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As the world has changed during the past 50 years, so has agriculture. And so has agricultural research, which continues to confront new challenges, from food security to ecological concerns to land use issues. Indeed, as Guy Paillotin, the former president of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) has noted, agricultural research "has reached new heights in biology and is exploring other disciplines. It is forever changing, as are the needs of the society".

The changing challenges faced by agricultural research were examined in depth at a conference organised by the OECD’s Co-operative Research Programme on Biological Resource Management for Sustainable Agricultural Systems, together with the Czech Republic’s Ministry of Agriculture. Participants came from all agricultural sectors and included farmers, industry, scientists and decision makers, as well as other stake holders.

This publication presents the twenty papers delivered at the conference. They highlight recent major progress in agricultural research outcomes and address the challenges that lie ahead.

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Ouvrir / Fermer Cacher / Voir les résumés Table des matières

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  • Foreword
    It is a great honour for the Ministry of Agriculture and for me personally to host the Prague OECD Conference "Challenges for Agricultural Research". The conference held from 6 to 8 April 2009 during the Presidency of the Czech Republic (CR) of the EU is among the most important events of the agricultural sector, supporting the Presidency. Its importance is underlined by the participation of the CR Ambassador to the OECD, Mr. Karel Dyba.
  • Abbreviations
  • Executive Summary
    The OECD Co-operative Research Programme: Biological Resource Management for Sustainable Agricultural Systems (CRP) was established in 1979 to strengthen co-operative efforts among research scientists and institutions. Its main objective is to strengthen scientific knowledge and provide relevant scientific information and advice to inform policy decisions related to the sustainable use of natural resources in the areas of food, agriculture, forestry and fisheries.
  • Report from the CRP Reflection Group meeting on "Vision for the Future"
    On 7 and 8 April 2008 the Management Committee of the Co-operative Research Programme: Biological Resource Management of Sustainable Agricultural Systems (CRP), upon the request of the Governing Body, met in Budapest to consider a "Vision for the Future" for the CRP programme, with a view to contributing to the preparation of the CRP’s mandate for 2010-2014. In addition to members of the Management Committee, Tony Burne (former Chair of the Governing Body), Yvon Martel (Vice-Chair of the GB), Peter Keet (GB) and Jim Lynch (former Chair of the Management Committee) participated in the deliberations.
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  • Ouvrir / Fermer Cacher / Voir les résumés Coping with Pressures on Natural Resources (Water and Soil)

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    • Balancing Global Agricultural Water Supply and Demand
      The recently completed Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture concluded that globally there are sufficient land and water resources to produce food for a growing population over the next 50 years. But it is probable that today’s trends, if continued, will lead to water crises in many parts of the world. Yearly some 7 100 billion cubic meters (m3) of water are evaporated by crops to meet global food demand, equivalent to more than 3 000 litres per person per day. With a growing population, rising incomes and changes in diets, food demand will increase rapidly. Demand for biomass for biofuels will further drive the demand for agricultural products and hence agricultural water. Some forecasts foresee a doubling of agricultural water demand in the coming 50 years. This is reason for concern as already 1.2 billion people live in areas where water is insufficient to meet all demands. Fortunately, there seems much scope to improve productive use of water and get more out of a unit of water. This paper explores forecasts of global agricultural water demand and scenarios to meet this. It concludes with challenges in future water supply.
    • Effect of Reduced Water Supplies on Food Production Economies
      This paper describes the challenges facing irrigated agriculture today and in the future, with a focus on recent challenges, including rapid increases in non-irrigation water demands, growing water pollution, competition from biofuels, and growing impact from climate variability and change. Increased agricultural productivity is suggested as a key investment to counteract growing water shortages for food production and food security.
    • Global Soil Resource Base: Degradation and Loss to Other Uses
      Rapid increase in world population during the 20th century, along with the conversion of land to non-agricultural uses, have drastically decreased the availability of finite soil resources for agricultural use. Per capita soil area for agricultural use is also decreasing because of soil degradation. Four related but different terms, often used interchangeably with erroneous and confusing interpretations, are soil degradation, land degradation, desertification and vulnerability to desertification. Global area subject to different degradation processes is estimated at 1 965 Mha by soil degradation, 3 506 Mha by land degradation, 3 592 Mha by land desertification of which 1 137 Mha is soil desertification, and 4 324 Mha by vulnerability to land desertification. Urbanisation and conversion to industrial land uses and development of infrastructure are also competing land uses. In 2005, 3.16 billion people lived in urban centres over a globally urbanised land area of 351 Mha. In the United States, 79% of the total population of about 300 million lives in urban centres over a land area of 18.6 Mha, or 2% of the total US land area. In rapidly urbanising China, India and other Asian countries, brick making uses topsoil to 1-m depth equivalent to 0.5%-0.7% of cropland area per year in some regions. Policy interventions are needed to limit conversion of prime farmland to nonagricultural uses.
    • Soil Resources: Science-Based Sustainability
      Soil resources are being degraded primarily by nutrient mining in poor countries and by nutrient loading and other excesses in rich counties. Both are reversible, by applying science-based policies to counteract them. Food production can drastically increase in Africa with the proper use of donor funding, limiting food aid to starvation situations, and enabling chronically hungry small farm households in Africa to have access to improved hybrid seeds and appropriate mineral fertilisers. The fertiliser and improved seed required to produce an additional tonne of maize grain by Millennium Village farmers cost six times less than the same tonne of US food aid.
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  • Ouvrir / Fermer Cacher / Voir les résumés Delivering Agriculture for Food and the Environment

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    • Managing Agricultural Landscapes for Production and Biodiversity Outcomes
      Pressure is increasing globally to increase agricultural production (including bioenergy) per unit area, provide ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, flood control etc., and maintain cultural and biodiverse landscapes. These functions should not be totally separated; rather, we need to develop agricultural systems and landscapes that also provide these services, though the balance between them will vary from place to place. Such systems must be productive, resilient and profitable, raising the issue of how the public benefits of ecosystem services are valued and captured. While many agricultural landscapes will change, there is real scope to develop systems that are both productive and biodiverse – but these need to be well thought through, they will not happen by chance.
    • The Role of Genetically Modified Plants in Sustainable Crop Protection
      Potential yield loss (i.e. production without crop protection) of major crops is estimated at 50% to 80% worldwide, whereas actual yield loss (i.e. loss despite crop protection) ranges from 25% to 40% on average of crops. These figures show that crop protection plays a crucial role in safeguarding crop productivity against competition from pests (weeds, animals, pathogens and viruses) and in preventing pre- and post-harvest loss of food, feed and fibres. Sustainable crop protection should utilise all suitable techniques and methods which are compatible with economic, ecological and social requirements. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is considered to fulfil the conditions of sustainability, and IPM is thus a strategy that can contribute most efficiently to food security. IPM is one of the most effective strategies to contribute to crop productivity per harvested area which reflects in sustainable production systems the desire to increase land use efficiency and income by minimising adverse environmental and social impacts.
    • Science-Based Policy Issues to Enable Sustainability on the Ground
      Using improved maize seed and appropriate mineral fertilisers in the 80 Millennium Villages, which comprise approximately 400 000 people in ten countries of sub-Saharan Africa, has drastically increased production of staple food crops, transforming food deficits into crop surpluses. Maize yields more than doubled at the village scale, from 1.7 to 4.1 tons ha..1. In Malawi, because of a smart input subsidy programme implemented by the government, maize harvests have greatly surpassed those of previous years, turning that country from a recipient of food aid into a food exporter and food aid donor to neighbouring countries. Other countries are beginning to implement similar efforts. They will require novel financial mechanisms, but the way forward is clear.
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  • Ouvrir / Fermer Cacher / Voir les résumés Competition in Agriculture for Food, Fibre and Fuel

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    • Economic Balance on Competition for Arable Land between Food and Biofuel: Global Responsibilities of Food, Energy and Environmental Security
      Limited land is available globally to grow crops for food and fuel. There are direct and indirect pressures on forests and other lands to be converted from growing food for feedstock to be used for biofuel production. The balance of evidence indicates there will probably be sufficient appropriate land available to meet demands for both food and fuel, but this needs to be confirmed before the global supply of biofuel is allowed to increase significantly. There is a future for a sustainable biofuels industry, but feedstock production must avoid encroaching on agricultural land that would otherwise be used for food production. And while advanced technologies offer significant potential for higher greenhouse gas (GHG) savings through biofuels, these will be offset if feedstock production uses existing agricultural land and prevents land-use change. GHG savings can be achieved by using feedstock grown mainly on marginal land or that does not use land, such as wastes and residues (although this may compete with other uses of these materials). To ensure that biofuels deliver net GHG benefits, governments should amend, but not abandon, their biofuel policies in recognition of the dangers from indirect effects of land-use changes. Large areas of uncertainty remain in the overall impacts and benefits of biofuels. International action is needed in order to improve data, models and controls, and to understand and to manage effects.
    • Genetic Technology, Sustainable Animal Agriculture and Global Climate Change
      World food demand is expected to more than double in the next 50 years. During this time, our planet will likely undergo dramatic climate change that will impose new challenges on our capacity to maintain even current levels of food production let alone meet the anticipated demand. All of us at this conference were born and raised during the last century when the globe experienced a doubling of the human population. Little did we know then how our lives would depend on the remarkable increase in global food production that characterises that century, an increase underwritten by astonishing advances in genetics and agricultural science. Nor did we realise that the 20th century expansion of the global larder came at such great environmental cost, a cost born largely by the conversion of natural ecosystems to agriculture with the resulting destruction of the essential services those ecosystems provide. Genetics has always been the currency for assuring population success in changing environments. Although technology alone will be insufficient, the development and application of new advanced genetic technologies will be absolutely necessary to feed the world our children and grandchildren will know as their own. The EnviropigTM represents a model of environmental-genetic innovation with the potential to dramatically enhance the sustainability of animal agriculture in an increasingly hungry world intoxicated by its own waste.
    • Challenges and Opportunities for Further Improvements in Wheat Yield
      Wheat is one of the most critical food crops. Globally wheat yield has been growing slower than wheat demand. Further improvements in yield are required. Due to environmental concerns, much of these improvements must come from genetic gains. As wheat yield potential is expressed across a wide range of environments, breeding cultivars of higher-yield potential than that of most modern cultivars is critical. The challenge is that the main physiological avenues for improving yield in the future must be different than that on which past breeding (including the "green revolution") was based. Major improvements in yield potential were achieved by increased harvest index based on plant height reduction, but any further reductions in plant height would bring about yield penalties rather than gains. In this paper I will discuss alternative opportunities for future improvements beyond modifications in height or partitioning of dry matter.
    • Replacement of Fish Meal in Aquaculture Diets with Plant Ingredients as a Means of Improving Seafood Quality
      The enhanced metabolic efficiency of aquatic animals such as fish and crustaceans over terrestrial homotherms includes the fact that they do not expend energy for body temperature regulation and excretion of toxic ammonia (without the need of synthesising its non-toxic derivatives). Therefore, utilisation of dietary nutrients for body deposition/growth can be higher in fish than in domestic mammals or birds. There is evidence that seafood quality can be enhanced by using specifically modified diets for cultured fish while simultaneously avoiding environmental pollutants in controlled farming. The question remains if fish can utilise feed stuffs of plant, bacterial, or yeast origin with low nutrient concentrations.
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  • Ouvrir / Fermer Cacher / Voir les résumés Food Safety Today and Tomorrow: the Challenges in Changing Food and Farming Practices

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    • Major Trends in Mycotoxin Research
      Mycotoxins, produced by fungi that colonise foods and feeds may be carcinogenic, cytotoxic, oestrogenic, immunosuppressant, nephrotoxic, neurotoxic or teratogenic compounds and pose, therefore, serious public and animal health hazards. Food and feed safety, as a major concern all over the world, is the driving force of mycotoxin research and development activity. The present study provides an overview of the major mycotoxins and mycotoxicoses including chemistry, toxicity, and detection of mycotoxins. Special attention is devoted to biodiversity, genetic variation, life cycle strategies, pathogenicity and identification of toxigenic fungi. Risk assessment and climatic models developed to predict mycotoxin contamination of crop products are considered as potential solutions of reducing the threat of mycotoxicoses. The role of storage conditions and food processing technologies in the reduction of mycotoxin concentrations are also discussed.
    • Food without Zoonotic Agents: Fact or Fiction?
      Over the last decades considerable investment has been made to produce safe food. In many industrialised countries food is safer than ever before due to continuous efforts, but this can never be taken for granted. Some existing microbiological food safety problems still remain a challenge; well-known pathogens may be transmitted by hitherto unknown vehicles and new pathogens will continue to emerge. Many factors influence the changing epidemiology of pathogens and their emergence is only partly predictable or explainable. The majority of foodborne pathogens have their reservoir in the animal population. Therefore, one of the keys for future preparedness to detect new trends, to implement control measures and to predict the effect of interventions is intersectoral collaboration between animal health, the food sector and public health.
    • Altering Foods Derived from Animals for the Future?
      Breeding and feeding of food-producing farm animals has long been mainly oriented to maximising production efficiency. High-yielding dairy cattle and layers produce nowadays cheap milk and eggs respectively, and fast-growing pigs, broilers and beef cattle provide us with lean meat. However, the transition from a producer-driven to a consumer-oriented market forces the animal industry to pay more attention to the sensory and technological properties and the health value of their products. The immense ongoing research on improving the fatty acid composition of animal products mainly through altered feeding strategies is a good example thereof. In monogastric animals, the potential of nutrition for steering the fatty acid composition of raw meats and eggs is now relatively well established, whereas in ruminants the fatty acid metabolism is more complex as a result of the rumen processes. The potential of animal genetics for modifying the fat content and the fatty acid composition of animal products should also be further explored. Animal products are also safe carriers of essential trace elements and other nutrients, and more research for upgrading the value of animal products in this respect is warranted. The effects of altering the composition and properties of raw animal products on the sensory quality and the health value of the end products should be better established. In particular, human intervention studies are required to evaluate the impact on human health of consuming animal products. Overall, a cost-benefit evaluation of the potential contribution of altering raw animal products to improving the health of consumers should be made. It is evident that this requires a fork-to-farm chain approach, taking into account the needs of the animals, the farmers, the food processing industry and the end consumer.
    • Plants for the Future
      The present millennium has started with unprecedented global menaces with serious implications for mankind. The management of the planet’s resources, the consequences of climate change, the problems generated by the food crisis require prompt actions. Actions at political and managerial level that take into account the contributions that science and technology can bring. The main challenges are: food and feed security; a much more sustainable agriculture; improved cash crops as raw material for the chemical and manufacturing industry; and, above all, actions for the preservation of the last surviving wildlife areas. The challenge is to produce better and more. The millennium goals are far from met. The number of undernourished people is reaching 1 billion. We need to produce more, to fulfil the demand of diversified agricultural products, and to guarantee a decent income to the farmers in the developing and emerging countries. To produce better, to satisfy sanitary and environmental requirements, biotechnologists have developed prototype plants that take up fertilisers more efficiently, need less irrigation and are more resistant to biotic and abiotic stresses. It is our mission to ensure that this knowledge is used in a wide range of breeding programmes, to generate the crops of the future.
    • Genetic Resources as the Building Blocks for Breeding: Current Status and Challenges
      During the 20th century among plant and animal land species, the sources of genetic diversity have disappeared at an alarming rate for most domesticated species. Furthermore, no country is self-sufficient in this area. Geographical and intergenerational dependency on genetic resources for food and agriculture is very high and access to them continues to be a prerequisite for effective agricultural research and breeding. The OECD member countries are among the most dependent on genetic resources from abroad. International co-operation is therefore a must. The negotiation in FAO, and wide ratification of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) early this century, have been a significant achievement and a hope for the conservation, sustainable use, and continuous availability of these resources. However, a considerable effort is still needed, including making the ITGRFA fully operative in all countries and at all levels. In addition, many crops of the past which are neglected today, as well as many wild species, are expected to play a critical role in food, medicine and energy production in the near future.
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  • Ouvrir / Fermer Cacher / Voir les résumés Regulatory Challenges

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    • Animal Biotechnology in the United States: the Regulation of Animal Clones and Genetically Engineered Animals
      The implementation of genetic engineering in animals is a rapidly developing field. In January 2009, the US FDA issued the final version of its Guidance on the Regulation of Genetically Engineered Animals Containing Heritable Recombinant DNA Constructs. This document clarifies the FDA’s statutory and regulatory authority, and provides recommendations to producers of GE animals to help them meet their obligations and responsibilities under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The FFDCA defines "articles (other than food) intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or other animals" as drugs. Because an rDNA construct in a GE animal is intended to affect the animal's structure or function, it meets the definition of a new animal drug, whether the animal is intended for food, or used to produce another substance. The FDA has developed a risk-based approach to the regulation of these rDNA constructs in GE animals.
    • Animal Cloning and Transgenesis
      Two techniques, cloning and transgenesis, offer new possibilities to improve the exploitation of farm animal genomes. Cloning is a way to generate genitors having the same genome as that of their genetic parents. This allows the prolonged use of genitors having a high value genome validated by the properties of their offspring born after sexual reproduction. Transgenesis is a way to introduce known new traits into genitors in only one generation. This implies foreign gene addition to a genome or specific inactivation of endogenous genes. Among the current projects are the generation and the study of animals having resistance to diseases, accelerated growth, improved milk or meat composition, milk containing anti-pathogen proteins or reducing pollution. Cloning and transgenesis are thus opposite but complementary techniques.
    • The Biotechnology and Biosafety Activities at the OECD
      In order to increase the efficiency of the risk/safety assessment process and to reduce duplication of effort, OECD countries have recognised the value of working together to harmonise approaches and share information used in safety assessment.
    • Biosafety Assessment of the EFSA GMO Panel
      The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is the keystone of European Union (EU) risk assessment regarding food and feed safety. In close collaboration with national authorities like the German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) and in open consultation with its stakeholders, the EFSA provides independent scientific advice and clear communication on existing and emerging risks. The GMO Panel provides independent scientific advice on the safety of GMOs such as plants, animals and micro-organisms, on the basis of Directive 2001/18/EC on the deliberate release into the environment of genetically modified organisms; and of genetically modified food and feed, on the basis of Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 on genetically modified food and feed.
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