Challenge to grow more food from less

TIM CRONSHAW
Last updated 11:18 12/11/2012

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New Zealand stands to gain from farmers getting better at growing food in developing countries, says Methven farmer Craige Mackenzie.

Mackenzie became the first New Zealander to sit alongside selected farmers at last month's Global Farmer Roundtable at Des Moines, Iowa, in the United States.

Contrary to the view that it might be in New Zealand's best interest if developing countries struggled to supply their own food, he found there were advantages to farmers raising production.

Better-performing farmers could feed their families, change their diet and gain an income from selling surplus food to small towns, which could mean they and other people could afford better food, creating export opportunities for developed countries, he said.

Well-fed people provided more settled communities and discouraged corruption, benefiting the rest of the world, he said.

"They are also talking about sustainable intensification and how to feed the world," Mackenzie said. "We will have another two billion people by 2050 and this isn't about us feeding all of them. It's about empowering them to feed themselves, because some people have to choose which of their kids to feed and which not to and which of their two children to give away."

Sitting at the round table were 15 farmers, including some from Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, looking at tools, trade and techniques to maximise the productivity and profitability of farming.

Most agreed that sustainable intensification was the answer.

A Zimbabwe couple told the group they had increased their corn crop from two tonnes to 15 tonnes by using genetically modified seed, because they did not have the money or expertise to grow food with advanced irrigation or fertilisers.

This had allowed them to feed their family.

"We have taken a stance against GM in New Zealand," Mackenzie said, "but we should be more open that maybe it doesn't work for us, but it works in other parts of the world."

The underlying message for every farmer was that they needed to be smarter and grow more food with less water and fertiliser and this would be driven otherwise by increasing regulations.

Mackenzie and his wife, Roz, also attended the World Food Prize, an event celebrating innovations, with speakers including United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon.

The problem was raised of feeding a growing world with two super-cities of 30 million people and the need for better agriculture. The number of super-cities is expected to rise to 22 by 2050, with two in developed countries and the rest in developing countries.

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Mackenzie said a common challenge facing farmers was to produce "more food from less". The meeting highlighted to him that Canterbury farmers still needed to use water wisely through better technology, even though there were large water reserves.

"To invest in technology going forward, farmers have to be profitable.

"The fastest way for us to make good progress is by being profitable."

Mackenzie is a cropping and dairy farmer, using innovations such as crop sensors, variable rate technology and electromagnetic mapping of soils, and runs a business, Agri Optics, in precision agriculture.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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