Agricultural productivity is one of the globe’s (and the twentieth century’s) great success stories. Over that century from 1900 to 1999 the number of people employed in agriculture dropped dramatically, yet yields rose just as dramatically.
This was just as well since the global population also rose significantly and all those extra mouths to feed required a lot more food to be grown and produced.
The trend seemed unstoppable. Of course, productivity growth had to slow since the number of people could not continue to drop massively since there were so few people employed in the sector but advances in pesticides, seed formulation, weather forecasting – and agricultural technology – were sure to keep productivity rising, weren’t they?
Well, no actually. Those optimists that forecast continued productivity growth forgot to factor in the effects of global warming and climate change. The sector has been struggling to stand still.
The effects have also been disproportionately felt in poorer, developing countries – where population growth is highest. We richer countries have to work harder, and share our knowledge more effectively if we are to avoid pan-famine following pandemic.