Challenges for Agricultural Research

image of Challenges for Agricultural Research

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.



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.


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