Farming systems are moving targets. Agricultural Research and Development (R&D) must understand where they come from and where they are going to offer solutions that are adapted. This is one of the main objectives of the Trajectories and Trade-offs for Intensification of Cereal-based systems (ATTIC), project funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE) and implemented by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the Farming System Ecology group at Wageningen University & Research.
Feeding the world is about more than just satisfying stomachs. Food scientists and nutritionists have long recognized that the foods we eat not only need to fill us up, but nourish our bodies as well.
The problem of ‘hidden hunger’ — deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals — continues to pose serious threats to populations and economies around the world. A lack of micronutrients like iron, zinc and vitamin A in diets can lead to blindness, disease or even death, particularly for women and for children under the age of five.
A recent study by the International Food Policy Research Institute
estimates that rainfed maize yields in countries in northern Central America
are at the highest risk of crop loss as a result of climate change in the
Maize crops occupy more than 36% of total cultivated land in
Central America and almost 19% in the Andean countries. IFPRI’s study examined
potential impacts of climate change through the year 2050. According to the
results, Costa Rica is expected to suffer the hardest blow to maize yields, at
an almost 17% loss, with Honduras following behind at around 12%.
Steep population growth and changing dietary preferences will quadruple maize demand in sub-Saharan Africa. Can production keep up? At what cost to climate change?
Using data from Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali and Nigeria in West Africa and from Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia in East Africa, our research shows that average production of 1.7 t/ha of maize in 2010 must increase to 6.8 t/ha to meet estimated demand in 2050.
To achieve this, per-hectare maize output must grow by about 3.5% per year, a rate never witnessed at national or supra-national scales anywhere in the world in rainfed agriculture.
Corresponding nutrient inputs must grow by over 7% annually to prevent further soil depletion and degradation.
Are such yield increases possible?
Our answer is a resounding yes. Using the Global Yield Gap Atlas, we calculated an average rainfed yield ceiling of 9.2 t/ha for maize across the nine countries, with area-weighted country averages ranging from 6 t/ha in Tanzania to over 12 t/ha in Ethiopia.