By Daniel Hunter

The high-growth economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRICs) are investing heavily in agricultural research, offering financial backing to farmers, promoting best practices in farming, and strengthening rural infrastructure to secure their food supplies, according to a new Economist Intelligence Unit study.

As demand for food soars in the coming decades, boosting yields in agricultural systems around the world will be essential. The BRICs have been among the most successful food producers of the past two decades. Their successes provide valuable lessons for other high-growth areas–as well as for developed markets–according to the study, which was sponsored by Passion Céréales, an umbrella organisation for French cereals producers.

Agriculture in high-growth markets: Securing global food supplies is a report from the Economist Intelligence Unit which discusses the food supply challenges that the world faces in the coming decades; and investigates how the BRIC countries are addressing these. It focuses on successful measures being taken to expand food production in high-growth countries, and the potential for further improvements in food productivity. The report draws on wide-ranging desk research and in-depth interviews with nine international experts on food and agriculture.

The key findings of the research are as follows:

High-growth economies are acting decisively to boost agricultural productivity. Governments are investing heavily in agricultural research, offering financial backing to farmers, promoting best practices in farming, and strengthening rural infrastructure. Far from being one-off initiatives, these measures are part of wide-ranging agricultural programmes.

There is still scope for improvement in food productivity. Despite clear successes in food production in high-growth economies, there is still scope for improvement. In some cases, further mechanisation may boost output; in other cases, better crop management may drive productivity; and in others still, improved infrastructure may ease access to market. Plant breeding technologies also hold a key to more productivity gains.

Lessons can be drawn from the successes of the high-growth economies. Agricultural successes in high-growth emerging markets are often based on a widespread adoption of plant breeding technologies, including hybridisation and genetic modification. A further success factor appears to be an entrepreneurial environment, which promotes innovation and attracts investment. At the same time, subsidies appear to play a limited role in the agricultural sector in high-growth economies.

Closer global co-operation can drive food production. To capitalise on agricultural successes in high-growth markets, the sharing of resources such as research capabilities, technology and knowledge is critical. Furthermore, closer co-operation across countries and regions, and across the public and private sectors, looks certain to help stabilise food prices and secure global food supplies in the next decades.

Global food production must expand as much as 3% annually to meet demand. Drivers behind the continuing rise in food demand include growing populations, increasing prosperity and ongoing urbanisation. To secure food supplies for the planet’s population, agricultural output must expand as much as 3% annually in the years to 2030, in contrast to recent growth of just over 2%. Improvements in food productivity are needed to reach this goal.

Agriculture will increasingly be ecologically sustainable, technologically driven, and inclusive of small suppliers. Food production will have a lesser environmental impact; it will be driven by plant breeding technologies, including hybridisation and genetic modification; and it will embrace smaller suppliers as well as larger ones. Ongoing efforts to drive food productivity are likely to be concentrated in high-growth economies, where demand for food is rising most sharply.

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