Open markets and Food Security

A Symposium of AAAS 2000 Annual Meetings

Shu Geng

Department of Agronomy and Range Science

University of California, Davis, CA 95616

Progress and Problems

The world population has doubled in the last 40 years from less than 3 billion in 1960 to almost 6 billion in 1998 with a growth rate 2.4% a year. With this growth rate, the world population will double again in another 40 years by the middle of the 21st century. On the other hand, World cereals' production has increased 2.7 fold in the last 40 years: from 850 mmt to 2200 mmt (figure 1). Cereals accounts for about 84% of all human's dietary on the dry weight basis, and provides 65% of the total protein intakes (Evens, 1999). This remarkable progress was achieved mainly through increased yields with an annual growth rate of 3.6%. If this trend is continued, food production will double in 30 years and starvation and malnutrition might be eliminated from earth.

When cereal production and harvested area are calculated on a per capita basis, dramatically different pictures are revealed, i.e., firstly, the per capita cereal production has stagnated - at about 1 kg per person per day, since late 1970s (Figure 2). Secondly, the per capita cereal harvested area has been steadily declining since the 1960s, with 0.21 hectares per person in 1960 but only 0.11 in 1997 (Figure 3). These figures indicate a potential problem with food insecurity in the coming decades.

Many factors may have contributed to the stagnation of food production and cereal land reduction, including, population growth, economic development, natural resource depletion and environmental deterioration. Indeed, about 17% of the total vegetated land worldwide is being seriously degraded today (State of the World, 1994) and water and air pollution problems exist throughout the world.

Penning de Vries (1999) estimated the maximal yield and production potentials as affected by land conversion and degradation among the Asia countries by using a simulation approach. Under a moderate scenario condition, he estimated that potential yields would decrease by 40% for grain lands and 25% for grass land. East Asia and South Asia are likely to be food insufficient under the scenario, and China could be 20% short of projected cereal needs.


Resource and physiological limits on yields

The world's food production increased primarily through yield increase in the last 50 years. Yields are constrained by the amount of solar energy, water and nutrient that crops can receive and use in the assimilation of carbon hydrates in the plant. As a result, plant yields are limited by the availability of these resources. Figure 4 illustrate the relationships of these factors on yields. A simple representation of various natural and plant factors that may limit yields is shown in the following equations (Sinclair, 1999),

Agricultural and plant scientists have always attempted to manipulate these parameters to improve crop performance and to increase yields. Most of the past contributions in improved yields resulted from combinations of agronomic research on water and nutrient management and genetic improvements on disease and pest resistance. Despite improvements, Loomis and Amthor (1999) showed that the basic efficiency of photosynthesis and respiration, which determine physical potential yield, seems little altered by domestication and breeding of crops so far. They suggested that the physical potential yield could be further increased, if RUE could be improved by more rapid canopy development and/or longer growing seasons.

Recent developments in biotechnology promise a new revolution in agriculture and solutions to world food insecurity (Abelson and Hines, 1999) by providing a powerful tool in improving plant productivity (Mann, 1999a, Mann, 1999b). Genetically modified (GM) crops of soybean, corn, cotton, and canola have been successfully grown in many countries (James, 1998). Worldwide, about 28 million hectares of transgenic plants were grown in 1999 and this figure is expected to triple in 5 years (Abelson and Hines, 1999). In addition to improve crop disease resistance and nutrient values for better quality food and feed, plants are also used for producing industrial feedstock and pharmaceutical and nutraceutical products (Abelson and Hines, 1999).

Market and food security issues

This biotechnology driven agricultural revolution is very relevant to the problems of food security, malnutrition, poverty alleviation, and environmental sustainability in the world. But it also raises important questions relating to ethics, intellectual property rights, and biosafety (Crouch, 1998; Serageldin, 1999). Two particular issues directly tie the concerns of biotechnology to the markets and food security:


Solar Radiation Limited Maximum Yield: Y £ (HI) * S (RUE * f * I ) [1]

n = 0

Water Limited Maximum Yield: Y £ (HI) * T * (k/VPD) [2]

Nitrogen Limited Maximum Yield: Y £ Nup * (NHI / GN) [3]

Ecological Yield: Y = Y m * (1- d ) * (1- p ) * (1- w ) [4]


f: The fraction of the radiation that is intercepted by the crop;

I: The amount of solar radiation to the crop;

RUE: Radiation use efficiency;

d: Crop mass accumulation over the length of the season;

HI: Harvest index;

Y : Potential yield;

T: Plant transpiration;

k: Conversion coefficient;

VPD: Vapor pressure deficit weighted for the transpiration period of the day;

Nup : Total crop nitrogen uptake;

NHI: Nitrogen harvest index;

GN : Nitrogen fraction of the grain;

Y m: The minimum of the potential yields;

d : Yield reduction factor due to disease pressure;

p : Yield reduction factor due to pests pressure;

w : Yield reduction factor due to weed pressure;

Y: Observable maximal yield.


The first is the consolidations in the form of acquisitions, mergers, and alliances, which continue to be a dominant feature of industries in general and the biotechnology industry in special. Since 1996, more than 25 major acquisitions and alliances have taken place among agrobiotech, seed, and farm chemical firms. For example: Monsanto, now the second largest seed seller in the world, was a purely chemical company until about 1982 when it entered the seed business by acquiring DeKalb's wheat research program. In the Ď90s they increased their seed business by obtaining AgriCetus, Britainís Plant Breeding Institute, Cargillís seed operations in Africa, Asia, Central and Latin America and Europe, and others. They purchased Calgene Inc, a leader in plant biotechnology in1995 and Asgrow Agronomics, a leader in soybean and corn seeds, in1996. In May, 1998 Monsanto announced that it had reached agreements to acquire two seed companies Ė DeKalb Genetics Corporation and Delta & Pine Land Company, and recently announced a merger with Pharmacia-Upjohn. The dominance of a highly concentrated private sector has raised fears of a new phase of comparative disadvantage and increased dependency in the poor countries where most of population growth will occur in the next century (Serageldin, 1999).

Second, also very much at the heart of the concern is the issue of patenting and intellectual property rights. While these rights are necessary for the private sector to mobilize and invest money in developing the technology, "it also raises a fear that patenting will lead to monopolization of knowledge, restricted access to germplasm, controls over the research process, selectivity in research focus, and increasing marginalization of the majority of the world's population." (Serageldin, 1999).

The question is whether free market will stimulate the consolidation of companies, and thereby concentrate technology rights in few hands. Could this widen the gaps between rich and poor and threaten food security of people in relatively poor countries? Or will open markets encourage the profitable application of the technology to improve the sustainability of agricultural production systems and the availability and accessibility of food in the world market and thus alleviate world hunger and food insecurity problems in the next century? This symposium attempts to address some of these questions.

Lastly, there is a great deal of confusing between the terms of "free market" and "open market". Perhaps economists can help explain the difference.

We are not trying to resolve these questions in this symposium but we do hope it initiates the necessary discussion among agricultural economists and agronomists on perhaps one of the most important and complex issues that will challenge all of us at the dawn of the 21st century, namely, free markets and food security.


Abelson, PH, and PJ Hines. 1999. The plant revolution. Science 285: 367-368.

James, C. 1998. Global review of commercialized transgenic crops: 1998. ISAAA Briefs. No.8.

Crouch, M.L. 1998. How the Terminator terminates: an explanation for the non-scientist of a remarkable patent for killing second generation seeds of crop plants. Paper of The Edmonds Institute, Edmonds, Washington.

Loomis, RS, JS Amthor. 1999. Yield Potential, plant assimilatory capacity, and metabolic efficiencies. Crop Science 39:1584-1569.

Mann C.C. 1999a. Crop Scientists seek a new revolution. Science 283: 310-314.

Mann C.C. 1999b. Genetic engineers aim to soup up crop photosynthesis. Science 283: 314-316.

Penning de Vries F.W.T. 1999. Land Degradation Reduces Maximum Food Production in Asia. In The Proceedings of the international symposium, "World Food Security and Crop Production Technologies for Tomorrow" held during 8 -9, October, 1988 in Kyoto, Japan.

Serageldin, Ismail. 1999. Biotechnology and Food Security in the 21st Century. Science 285:387-389.

Sinclair TR. 1999. Options for Sustaining and Increasing the Limiting Yield-Plateaus of Grain Crops. In The Proceedings of the international symposium, "World Food Security and Crop Production Technologies for Tomorrow" held during 8 -9, October, 1988 in Kyoto, Japan.

Speakers of The Symposium in AAAS Annual Meeting 2/21/2000

D. Gale Johnson (Professor, Dept. of Economics, University of Chicago) and Ron Cantrell (Director General, International Rice Research Institute) presented an over view of the facts, trends and issues of open markets on global food security from respectively an economistís and an agricultural scientistís view. Dr. Cantrell emphasized his presentation in issues of " Open markets and Food Security in Tropical Asia". The next four speakers discussed the potential influences of the opened international market may have on the fundamentals of food production capabilities, namely the natural, human and genetic resources. John Barton (Professor, School of Law, Stanford University) discussed the intellectual property and regulatory impacts on market structure and trade and Fred Bliss (Director, Worldwide Breeding Seminis, Inc) presented an over view of the contribution of genetic resources to food security and possible impacts of intensive food production system on biodiversity. Scott D. Rozelle (Associate Professor, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California at Davis) and Dennis R. Keeney (Professor and Director, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa State University) presented respectively the economic and agronomic views, on the potential impacts of open market on the natural and human resources, including those influences on scientists and individual farmers. Specifically, Dr. Rozelle used China as case study and Dr. Keeney addressed the question: Are open food systems compatible with a sustainable agriculture?

Shu Geng (Professor , Department of Agronomy and Range Science, UCD) presented an introduction to open the symposium and Daniel A. Sumner (Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, UCD) ended the symposium with an overall summary of the presentations.










































Figure 4. A diagram of the factors influencing potential yields