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Can the world keep up with soaring global food demand?

A global, and potentially historic, campaign aims to increase the world's food supplies.

Launched with little fanfare last week during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the Global Alliance on Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA) brought together scores of government officials, industry groups and academics to discuss how to ensure food security around the world as the planet's climate changes.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which supports sustainable agriculture, says there are several truths that cannot be denied, or ignored. First, whether as part of a natural cycle or through human intervention, the world's climate has changed. Second, that change is taking place as the global population is projected to jump by over 2 billion people between now and 2050, to more than 9 billion.

"As population is on the rise, food consumption patterns are destined to follow the same upward trend," the group notes on its website.

"Food production will need to increase by at least 70 percent to meet the demands of this growing population by 2050," FAO continues. "Studies show that climate change is likely to reduce food productivity, its production stability and incomes in some areas that already have high levels of food insecurity."

While experts remain divided on how best to deal with the impact of global warming on food supplies, there is general consensus that agricultural producers must become more efficient, while creating less of an impact when it comes to their overall carbon "footprint."

"Even today there is enough food on the planet for all of us," said Raj Khosla, professor of precision agriculture at Colorado State University, one of the GACSA's founding member organizations.

"But a very significant amount of food is either lost at the farm before it reaches the market in the lesser-developed economies... or in the developed world there's so much food on the table that it's wasted."

Better supply-chain management can go a long way toward ensuring food supplies while reducing food loss and spoilage. That means ensuring better harvesting, transportation and storage procedures and facilities, especially in developing economies.

"If a commodity is perishable, you have no choice but to get rid of it, one way or the other," Khosla said. "If you have a bumper crop, it can become a challenge if you don't have enough market or a good supply chain in place."

Of course, supply-chain issues are only one part of the greater equation. Khosla said that while there is no "one size fits all" answer to global food security issues, the concept of "site-specific farming," as well as a much more efficient use of water and nutrients, is applicable to both huge agricultural conglomerates as well as subsistence farmers. For example, the use of nitrogen, the world's largest-used fertilizer, can be cut back significantly if it's applied "in the right amount, at the right place and at the right time," he said.

The same principle holds true for water. Research show that, with some grains like corn, water usage can be reduced significantly if applied properly, and without reducing crop production.

There's also the controversial issue of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, that supporters say can help feed a growing global population by creating food crops with greater yields and more resistance to disease. By contrast, critics charge that GMOs might have unintended and serious consequences on both human health and overall food supplies.

All these issues and demands mean this is an exciting time to be involved in agriculture, as scientists, communities, businesses and governments come to grips with a growing global problem, Khosla said.

"Necessity is the mother of invention -- humans get creative in stressful times. That's when we're willing to accept ideas that we'd previously shun otherwise."

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