So, considering all that, at what rate will we need to grow productivity in order to double food supply by 2050?

To do so in 40 years, an “average annual compounded rate of about 1.75 percent” will be needed, said Keith Fuglie, Chief of the Resource, Environmental, and Science Policy Branch in the Resource and Rural Economics Division of the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS).

“Then they asked: Can we do that just with current resources? … And what policies would it take to get that kind of growth strategy or to maintain it? They took the Global TFP Index that ERS has developed and asked if we’re on the right path. At least for this decade, it looks like the rate at which global agricultural TFP is growing is roughly on a path that would allow global food supply to double in 40 years if the rate can be maintained.”

Fuglie warned against short-term views of agricultural research funding and strongly backed such programs as a major component of feeding future generations. He also warned of the consequences of any lapses. “The current accelerated rate of TFP growth we see, is really the fruit of policy decisions made years ago, even decades ago, to raise research capacity in many developing countries. To maintain this rate, or even accelerate the rate, requires continued robust investment in agricultural research and extending that investment more equitably worldwide to raise up areas that continue to see low productivity growth.”

Later, Fuglie returned to the same pro-research argument and said not to underestimate the lag time between investment and pay-off of increased productivity at the farm level. “If we grow complacent and say, ‘Well, things are going fine and we don’t really need to expand research further or maintain our research investments’ we won’t see the consequences of those decisions until a decade, or two. At that point, it will be very difficult to turn the productivity slow-down around quickly.”