Uncontrolled weeds are a major contributor to world hunger, says Leonard Gianessi. “Do something about that, and you will take a major step toward alleviating this problem.”

And he says, that’s why herbicides, insecticides, and GMO crops will be vital to meeting the needs of another two billion people on planet Earth by the year 2020.

“Make no mistake about it, these materials are essential for controlling the weeds, insects, and diseases that greatly reduce the world’s food supply,” he said at a Mississippi State University conference, “The Importance of Pesticides for Feeding the World.”

“We need to make sure policymakers realize that there is going to be a tremendous demand for pesticide use around the world, and that their support is important to feed their people,” says the consultant for The CropLife Foundation, Washington.

“We’ve got to make people understand — not just the decision-makers, but the general population, too — that these technologies are really important for food security and overall world security. “

Bill Herndon, MSU vice president for agriculture, forestry, and veterinary medicine, said Gianessi’s work “on the front lines of crop production and food issues” is helping to create awareness of the role of technology in meeting global food needs.

“His is a scientifically sound message about the importance of agriculture to food security,” said David Shaw, MSU vice president for research and development.

Much of the world population growth that will add another 2 billion people over the next 40 years is occurring in countries that are also experiencing rapid economic growth and increased urbanization, Gianessi says. “Middle class populations are growing, and their diets are changing. This will put pressure on the food supply and the need for utilization of pesticide technologies.”

China, the largest country in the world in terms of population with 1.3 billion people, is rapidly changing from a rural, agrarian society to urban, he says, and will add another 700 million people by 2050.

“The Chinese have grown rice for centuries, and with a predominantly rural population, they could enough people in the fields to chop out weeds by hand. To accomplish adequate weeding of rice by hand today would take the equivalent of every person in the country spending a day of labor just weeding. In today’s industrialized China, that is no longer possible.

“Their weed scientists in China started to look seriously at herbicides 15 to 20 years ago, and these materials have freed hundreds of thousands of people for other labor. Herbicide adoption has been very rapid; in 2005, about 80 million hectares treated; today, over 100 million.