If the world’s farmers are to grow enough food to feed 9 billion people by the year 2050, they’d better get a move on.

A study released at the World Food Prize’s Borlaug Dialogue in Des Moines, Iowa, today Oct. 13) says the growth rate of agricultural productivity is lagging behind that needed to feed an additional 3 billion people.

The Global Harvest Initiative’s 2010 GAP Report, developed with the Farm Foundation and USDA’s Economic Research Service, was designed to gauge the pace of global agricultural productivity growth against future needs for food.

Doubling agricultural output to meet global demand by 2050 will require and annual average growth of at least 1.75 percent in total factor productivity, according to Neil Conklin, president of the Farm Foundation and author of the report. USDA economists estimate global agricultural TFP growth averaged 1.4 percent per year between 2000 and 2007.

Closing the gap

“To close the gap without additional land and resources, we must increase the rate of productivity growth an average an average of 25 percent more per year over the next 40 years,” said Conklin. “And, productivity will need to grow faster than that during the next two decades, when the population will be increasing more rapidly than when it levels off around 2050.”

The study was released during one of the numerous side events held with the Borlaug Dialogue, which is conducted annually in conjunction with the World Food Prize, which the late Dr. Norman Borlaug founded 24 years ago to recognize individuals who have helped feed an increasingly hungry world.

Former USDA Chief Economist Bill Lesher, executive director of Global Harvest Initiative, emceed a lunch in which the results of the GAP Report were presented to editors and representatives of governmental and food groups.

Lesher noted that pinning down numbers on world food production and population demographics is a “very hard job to do.”