More food will need to be produced in the developing countries of the world if the combined goals of better nutrition and economic development are to be achieved. The major hope for potential future increases in production lies in opportunities to increase yields per unit of land. In fact, in a number of large countries, where population pressure has already brought nearly all of the usable land under production, this approach offers the only possibility for substantial production increases.
Many factors need to be combined for the achievement of higher crop yield levels, but attention may be focused on four components needed to support the drive for higher yields: improved seeds; fertilizers; plant protection; and farm credit. In addition, in many areas, farmers need more irrigation water. The use of improved seeds is the fundamental part of the technological package in which the other inputs take their place. Fertilizers and pesticides are today in the forefront of discussion as to the future direction of agricultural technology in the light of the energy crisis. Agricultural credit especially directed to assist small farmers is required if they are to be enabled to purchase sufficient quantities of these and other inputs.
In recent years, the hopes generated by some of the success stories of high-yielding varieties (HYVs) of wheat, rice and maize have been dampened by the realization that most of the new HYVs flourish in rather limited ecological areas and by the lack of breakthroughs in a number of other important crops. For some important crops such as oilseeds, tubers and pulses, with their crucial role in nutrition, as yet too little breeding work as been accomplished. Recent breakthroughs, such as maize with a high lysine content, indicate the scope for increasing protein availabilities, both for human and animal consumption. One of the main bottlenecks limiting the rapid and sustained spread of the HYVs has been the lack of a commercial supply of the improved seeds. Most developing countries do not yet have a seed industry which could support a major drive for higher productivity, or only have seeds produced for a very small number of crops. This situation has to be remedied by introducing seed multiplication programmes.
In the short run chemical fertilizers constitute the most important single weapon in the food production battle. The per hectare use of these nutrients in most developing countries is at present only one quarter, often less than one tenth, of what it is in most developed countries; it is especially low in Africa. This rate could be advantageously accelerated provided that supplies were available at reasonable prices. While a much wider use of these products could contribute substantially to increasing per-hectare yields, it is also true that they should be used with discrimination, thus effecting economies in the quantities required. Yet the major thrust must be to familiarize a larger proportion of the farmers of developing countries with plant protection practices and by this means significantly reduce the widespread losses of crops which occur every year because of pests, diseases and weeds. The use of quality seeds, of fertilizers and of plant protection materials on a sufficient scale is prevented in developing countries because most farmers do not have enough money to buy these inputs. In southern Asia the average small farmer spends $6 per hectare per year when he should be spending $20 to $80 according to the crop.
If modern technology is to be applied the farmers, especially the small farmers, must have credit, not the extremely expensive facilities provided by moneylenders, but institutional credit delivered and supervised, in many cases, through farmers' own organizations. The availability of credit on reasonable terms will also enable farmers to level their land and thus make better use of irrigation water, to purchase pumps and other mechanical equipment, and much needed tools. A limiting factor at present is the insufficiency of financial resources in developing countries. Also of vital consideration is water. Much of the water presently available in irrigation schemes is underutilized for lack of attention to land dwelling, field distribution, drainage systems and regulatory services. Improved drainage can check and largely eliminate the degradation of irrigated land through salinity. As water is ineffectively used, crop yields are much less than their potential.
Livestock sector potentialities are enormous, especially considering the very low levels of efficiency which characterize animal husbandry in most developing countries, apart from a few outstanding exceptions. Three overall considerations apply to all livestock production systems, whether they are relying predominantly on roughage or on grain. The first is the need to improve health conditions through better veterinary services, advice to farmers, and availability of the inputs required. An increasing share of such sanitary measures will have to extend across national boundaries as the benefits from continent-wide control of major epidemics are high. The second general consideration applies to the genetic improvement of all animal stocks. Just as in crop production, the direction of policy here is to provide animals with high genetic capacity and then to generate the health environment, managerial skills, and feed base for them which will permit full use of the higher capacity. Therefore, much of the success of genetic improvement will depend on the improvements which can be achieved in the feed base. Thirdly, the improvement in the feed base will have to relate to all three major components of the feed base in developing countries. The first of these is natural grasslands which provide a large share of sustenance both for bovine and sheep and goat populations. The grasslands of the developing world are perhaps the most over-utilized and at the same time under-utilized resources in agriculture. Over-stocking causes degradation of the pastures while on the other hand there exist far-reaching unused possibilities of raising the productivity of pastures through man-made changes in their composition - for instance, but not exclusively, in the semi-arid areas. Also, a large part of the feed from these pastures goes into animals which are very poor converters and which are kept in traditional low-efficiency systems of husbandry.
Measures aimed at increasing the contribution of fish to world food supplies cover a wide range of activities concerned with management and development, however, years have seen the fairly dramatic collapse of a number of major fisheries, due in part at least to excessive fishing, and it is clear that management action is needed if many stocks are to continue to provide the basis for commercially viable fisheries.
Many of the factors which were responsible for the less than full success for already developed HYVs have been identified and the problems are on their way to being overcome. The world-level organization of plant-breeding, as evolved over the past two decades, with international centres working in close cooperation with national research stations, has proved valuable. With additional labour and money, the existing centres together with new ones that may be needed, could help bring about dramatic yield improvements over much wider areas of the developing world. Varietal improvement also offers opportunities for increasing the quality of cereals, especially the quantity and composition of their protein content.