London: The world needs genetically modified crops both to increase food yields and minimize the environmental impact of farming, Britain's top science academy said on Wednesday.
The Royal Society said in a report the world faced a "grand challenge" to feed another 2.3 billion people by 2050 and at the same time limit the environmental impact of the farm sector.
The world will have to increase food output by 70 percent and invest $83 billion annually in developing countries by mid-century, the U.N.'s Food and Agricultural Organization said earlier this month.
"The problem is such an acute one, doing that sustainably without eroding soil, overusing fertilizers is an enormous challenge," said the chair of the Royal Society report, Cambridge University's David Baulcombe.
"There isn't a lot more land to use," he told Reuters. "And from the point of expense and using fossil fuels, we want to use less fertilizer."
"The food supply problem is likely to come to a head 10, 20, 30 years from now," he said, adding this didn't leave much time given the research lead time to develop new crops.
The answer would be a range of approaches from hi-tech genetically modified crops to low-tech management approaches such as sowing grass around maize to divert pests, as well as preserving the diversity of natural, wild crop varieties.
Farming indirectly, including deforestation, accounts for a third of greenhouse gases, say scientists, underlining the problem of increasing production simply by clearing more land or using more fertilizers, the biggest source of a powerful greenhouse gas nitrous oxide.
First Published: Wednesday, October 21, 2009, 13:09