The key to success in sustainably feeding the world, while protecting the environment, is developing practices and technologies that increase the prosperity from the land, according to a leading researcher on agricultural resiliency.

“We produce a lot of food on this planet; we probably produce enough to feed the 7 and a quarter billion of us today,” said Marty Matlock, executive director of the University of Arkansas’ Resiliency Center.

“But there are probably a billion people around the world who do not make enough money to afford that food, and that’s a problem.”

The Iowa-based Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) last week awarded Matlock, a leader in the science of agricultural sustainability, the 2018 Borlaug Communications award. The award is extended each year during the World Food Prize celebration to a scientist who excels at communicating the value of science and technology to the public.

To increase prosperity from the land in sub-Saharan Africa and other food-insecure parts of the world, it’s important to help farmers transition from subsistence farming, Matlock said. The focus instead, he said, should be developing more commercial farming in these areas and encouraging farmers to grow enough to sell to nearby customers, especially those who have moved into more urban settings.

“Some people, particularly those in Europe, think that subsistence farming is the way that people in developing countries should live,” Matlock said. “But subsistence farming means that you have no buffer. One failed crop means hunger, death or disruption.”

Through commercial production, Matlock said, farmers can build the security and resilience to survive a crop failure and continue to support their families and remain in agriculture.

The move to commercial farming is critical because of changing population trends around the globe, Matlock said. 

Populations are becoming more concentrated, and there are more people living on the edges of towns and cities. That, the researcher said, creates more opportunity for small-scale farmers to supply food to those areas and to increase their prosperity.

This development is also good for the environment because it will help reduce the pressure to open new land for food production, Matlock said.

“We must freeze the footprint of agriculture to protect other life on the planet,” Matlock said. “And we can do that by increasing yield and prosperity from land we do farm.”

Technology, Matlock stressed, remains a key part of the solution to increasing prosperity from the land and reducing agriculture’s impact on the environment. “Don’t back away from technologies that help farmers. Own them with pride.”

Instead, it is critical to communication the value of agricultural technologies to put them in context and explain their value to farmers and the environment, Matlock said.