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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Agriculture Experts to Meet for Global Panel

WASHINGTON -- International agricultural research chiefs, whose work helps feed 1 billion people every day, meet this week to discuss ways to keep pace with the food needs of the world's fast-growing population.

A variety of experts, including former World Bank president Robert McNamara, said there will be enough food to feed the world's population, expected to reach 8 billion in the next three decades, if adequate funding is given to agricultural researchers.

The meeting will also be attended by farmers, local and national scientists, government officials, charities and leaders from funding agencies to discuss how to coordinate work in food production and rural development.

"This is the first time all these actors are coming together on such a scale," said Ismail Serageldin, chairman of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, or CGIAR.

CGIAR, which operates 16 international agricultural research stations, will celebrate its 25th anniversary during "centers week," as its annual meeting is known. World Bank president James Wolfensohn, a fan of agricultural research, was scheduled to speak at the meeting Monday.

Rural poor, predominantly farmers, make up the bulk of the world's impoverished people. In many poor countries, agriculture accounts for two-thirds of employment and one-third of national income.

Serageldin said in an interview that agricultural research was a sure way to tackle three of the world's most pressing problems -- achieving food security, protecting the environment and ending poverty.

"You have very few investments in development with such high returns," he said, because larger crop output boosts individual incomes and makes food easier to obtain.

Higher-yielding crops reduce pressure on farms to expand into fragile areas, Serageldin said, and with proper breeding, can reduce reliance on pesticides and other chemicals.

The Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s dramatically boosted world food output with better crops and snuffed out the fear of famine in Asia.

The next stage, Serageldin said, was more complex. It would include work on improving farm output in areas with poor soils, where some of the world's poorest people live; improving crop yields while making plants more tolerant to poor weather, pests and disease; and coming up with crops and farming techniques that improve the lot of small farmers.

Despite successes like widely used rice varieties, "super" cassava and improved wheats and potatoes that can be planted in warmer climates, CGIAR has struggled for funding recently.

"There were perceptions ... that most of the [food] problems were solved," Gurdev Singh Kush, co-winner of this year's World Food Prize and rice breeder at a CGIAR center, said earlier this month. It takes years to bring a new breed to market, he said, so action was needed now to meet future food needs.