Will agricultural technofixes feed the world? Short- and long-term tradeoffs of adopting high-yielding crops

Amanda Logan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

How will we feed a growing population projected to reach 10 billion by 2050? Agricultural scientists estimate that we need to double our current food supply to meet growing demand. Based on the successes of the Green Revolution, many claim that matching this target is possible through improved agricultural technologies, yet there is little agreement on how to meet these goals in a sustainable manner (Godfray et al. 2010; Pretty and Bharucha 2014). In an ideal scenario, high yields could be maintained with negligible environmental impacts even in the face of major shocks. This scenario presents a daunting challenge because of complex and inevitable tradeoffs between competing economic, environmental, and social goals (Tilman et al. 2002:672). In this paper, I consider this conundrum by evaluating the tradeoffs involved in adopting high-yielding crops over the short and long-term. The development and adoption of high-yielding cultigens is framed as a key strategy in the fight against current and future hunger. This is especially the case in the African continent, where the impact of the early Green Revolution was minimal, and consequently the greatest future increases in crop production are projected (Evenson and Gollin 2003). Crop technofixes are often framed as win-win situations, where higher levels of production help alleviate food shortages by increasing the actual supply of food, which results in feeding more individuals and ensures a higher income for subsistence farmers. Such arguments align neatly with the goals of large biotechnology companies, who disseminate their products as development aid in the form of agricultural improvement technologies (Patel 2012). The costs and benefits of such interventions are often framed quite narrowly in terms of optimizing yields in the immediate term, but do not take into account the diversity of tradeoffs involved for individual farmers, particularly over the long-term. Archaeology provides an important lens on how and why people adopted new crops in the past and a means by which to evaluate the long-term tradeoffs of such decisions. Since the majority of farmers in the past operated in non-market settings, archaeology can facilitate understanding of motivations in settings where the market does not always reign supreme. This perspective is critical since the vast majority of subsistence farmers today employ a mix of market- and non-market-based strategies to weather the vagaries of environmental change and economic deprivation (e.g., food sharing; Mandala 2005).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Give and Take of Sustainability
Subtitle of host publicationArchaeological and Anthropological Perspectives on Tradeoffs
PublisherCambridge University Press
Pages109-124
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781139939720
ISBN (Print)9781107078338
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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