Crop Improvement in Agricultural Research for Development: Enhancing Yield, Resilience, and Sustainability

Crop Improvement Plays a Vital Role in Agricultural Research for development, aiming to enhance crop yield, resilience, and sustainability. By employing innovative techniques and technologies, researchers strive to address the challenges faced by farmers in an ever-changing environment. For instance, consider the case of a hypothetical smallholder farmer named Maria who cultivates maize in a region prone to droughts. Through agricultural research for development, scientists have been able to develop drought-tolerant maize varieties that can withstand prolonged dry spells and still provide substantial yields.

In recent years, there has been increasing pressure on agriculture to meet the growing global demand for food while simultaneously mitigating the effects of climate change. Crop improvement offers promising solutions to these complex challenges by focusing on developing crops with improved traits such as higher productivity, disease resistance, and tolerance to abiotic stresses. The goal is not only to increase crop yield but also to ensure its sustainability over time. Achieving this requires interdisciplinary collaboration between breeders, geneticists, agronomists, and other experts who work together to identify desirable traits through extensive field trials and molecular analyses. Through continuous research efforts, crop improvement aims to contribute towards achieving food security and sustainable agriculture worldwide.

Genetic Modification

One of the most promising approaches in crop improvement is genetic modification, which involves altering the genetic makeup of plants to enhance their desirable traits. This technique has gained significant attention and controversy due to its potential benefits and risks. To illustrate this, let us consider a hypothetical case study involving wheat crops.

Imagine a scenario where farmers are struggling with frequent droughts that severely impact their wheat yields. Through genetic modification, scientists can introduce genes from drought-tolerant plant species into wheat varieties. This technique aims to confer enhanced resilience against water scarcity and improve overall productivity.

Despite some concerns surrounding genetically modified crops, there are several reasons why this approach holds promise for agricultural research:

  • Increased yield potential: Genetic modification allows for the incorporation of specific genes that promote higher yields by enhancing photosynthesis efficiency or improving nutrient uptake.
  • Enhanced resistance to pests and diseases: By introducing genes from naturally resistant plant species, scientists can develop crops that have built-in protection against common pests and diseases.
  • Improved nutritional value: Genetic modifications can be employed to increase the nutritional content of crops, such as enriching grains with essential vitamins or minerals.
  • Environmental sustainability: Certain genetically modified crops may require fewer pesticides or fertilizers, reducing the environmental impact associated with conventional farming practices.

To better visualize these potential advantages, consider the following table showcasing hypothetical examples of genetically modified crop traits:

In conclusion, genetic modification offers great potential in addressing various challenges faced by agriculture today. By harnessing the power of modern biotechnology techniques, scientists aim to develop crops that not only exhibit improved yield and resilience but also contribute to sustainable farming practices. In the subsequent section, we will explore another important aspect of crop improvement: enhancing crop traits.

(Note: Transitioning into the next section about “Enhancing Crop Traits,” we can highlight the interconnectedness between genetic modification and other techniques by mentioning how these approaches work together in achieving comprehensive crop improvement.)

Enhancing Crop Traits

Enhancing Crop Traits through Genetic Modification

One example of enhancing crop traits through genetic modification is the development of genetically modified (GM) corn varieties that are resistant to pests. By inserting genes from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a soil bacterium that produces specific proteins toxic to certain insects, scientists have successfully created corn plants with built-in resistance against common pests like the European corn borer and corn earworm. This technology has significantly reduced the need for chemical insecticides, leading to improved crop yield and lower production costs for farmers.

Genetic Modification offers several potential benefits in enhancing crop traits:

Pest and disease resistance: Genetically modifying crops can provide them with enhanced resistance against pests, diseases, and environmental stresses. For instance, researchers have developed GM rice varieties with increased tolerance to drought and salinity, crucial traits for regions facing water scarcity or high salt levels in soils.

Improved nutritional quality: Genetic modification allows for the enhancement of crop nutrient content, addressing malnutrition issues prevalent in many parts of the world. Golden Rice is an example of a GM variety engineered to produce beta-carotene, which can be converted into vitamin A within the human body when consumed.

Extended shelf life: Through genetic modification, it is possible to enhance post-harvest characteristics such as shelf life and storage capacity. This trait improvement can reduce food waste during transportation and storage while ensuring greater availability of fresh produce.

Environmental sustainability: Utilizing GM crops that require fewer pesticides or herbicides reduces their impact on ecosystems by minimizing chemical runoff into water bodies and decreasing soil contamination.

The following table illustrates some examples of how genetic modification contributes to enhancing crop traits:

In summary, genetic modification offers immense potential in enhancing crop traits for the benefit of agricultural productivity and sustainability. By harnessing this technology, researchers can develop crops with improved resistance to pests and diseases, enhanced nutritional quality, extended shelf life, and reduced environmental impact. In the subsequent section on “Improving Plant Genetics,” we will explore additional approaches to further enhance crop traits through non-genetically modified methods.

Next section H2:’Improving Plant Genetics’

Improving Plant Genetics

Enhancing Crop Traits has been a crucial aspect of agricultural research for development, as it directly contributes to improving crop yield, resilience, and sustainability. By focusing on the genetic makeup of crops, researchers have been able to develop new varieties that possess desirable traits and characteristics. One such example is the development of drought-tolerant maize hybrids.

Drought poses a significant threat to agriculture worldwide, particularly in regions with limited water resources. To address this challenge, scientists have successfully bred maize hybrids that exhibit enhanced drought tolerance. These hybrids are specifically designed to withstand prolonged periods of water scarcity while maintaining optimal growth and productivity. Through extensive breeding programs and advanced genomic techniques, researchers have identified key genes responsible for conferring drought tolerance in maize plants. This breakthrough allows breeders to incorporate these genes into commercial hybrid varieties, thereby providing farmers with more resilient crops capable of thriving under challenging environmental conditions.

In addition to enhancing drought tolerance, crop improvement efforts also focus on other important traits such as disease resistance, nutrient efficiency, and stress tolerance. Incorporating these desired traits into crop varieties offers several benefits:

  • Increased productivity: Disease-resistant crops experience lower infection rates and reduced yield losses compared to susceptible varieties.
  • Sustainable farming practices: Nutrient-efficient crops require less fertilizer input, reducing costs for farmers while minimizing environmental pollution.
  • Climate change adaptation: Stress-tolerant crops can better withstand extreme weather events associated with climate change, ensuring food security even in unpredictable conditions.
  • Enhanced market value: Crops with improved quality attributes fetch higher prices in both domestic and international markets.

To illustrate the impact of these advancements further, consider the following table showcasing the increase in yield achieved through crop trait enhancement:

These remarkable yield improvements demonstrate the potential of crop improvement in addressing global food security challenges. By continuously enhancing crop traits, researchers and farmers alike are working towards a more sustainable and resilient agricultural sector.

Moving forward to the next section on Improving Plant Genetics, researchers continue to explore innovative ways to optimize crop physiology and further enhance the genetic potential of crops for improved productivity and sustainability.

Optimizing Crop Physiology

Improving Plant Genetics has been a crucial focus in agricultural research for the development of crops with enhanced yield, resilience, and sustainability. By harnessing genetic variation within plant species, scientists aim to develop improved cultivars that can overcome various challenges such as pests, diseases, climate change, and nutrient deficiencies.

One example of how improving plant genetics has led to significant advancements is the case of drought-tolerant maize varieties. Through careful breeding programs and selection processes, researchers have successfully developed hybrids that exhibit increased tolerance to water scarcity. These new cultivars possess traits such as deep root systems, reduced transpiration rates, and efficient water use efficiency mechanisms. As a result, farmers who cultivate these genetically improved maize varieties are better equipped to cope with periods of limited rainfall or prolonged dry spells, ultimately ensuring food security in regions prone to drought.

To further enhance crop improvement through plant genetics research, several key strategies and approaches have emerged:

Marker-assisted selection (MAS): This technique allows breeders to identify specific genes associated with desirable traits quickly. By using molecular markers linked to important agronomic characteristics like disease resistance or high yields, breeders can select individuals carrying those markers at an early stage without having to wait for phenotypic expression.

Genomic selection: This method utilizes advanced statistical models that incorporate genomic information from thousands of DNA markers spread throughout the genome. By analyzing patterns in this vast dataset, breeders can predict an individual’s performance based on its genetic makeup accurately. This approach enables faster and more accurate prediction of complex traits compared to traditional breeding methods.

Genetic Engineering : The development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has allowed for precise manipulation of specific genes within plants’ genomes. While controversial due to concerns about potential environmental impacts and public acceptance, genetic engineering techniques offer opportunities for introducing novel traits into crops rapidly.

Cryopreservation: Preserving germplasm resources through cryogenic storage ensures the long-term conservation of plant genetic diversity. This technique involves freezing and storing seeds, tissues, or embryos at extremely low temperatures, preventing deterioration over time. Cryopreservation plays a crucial role in maintaining genetic resources for future breeding programs.

The following table illustrates examples of genetically improved crops and their associated traits:

Advancements in Plant Breeding have greatly contributed to crop improvement efforts beyond genetics alone. By incorporating techniques like hybridization, mutagenesis, and polyploidy induction, breeders can create new combinations of desirable traits that were previously unavailable within a particular species or variety.

As we delve into the next section on Advancements in Plant Breeding, we will explore how these innovative approaches have revolutionized crop development even further by providing breeders with powerful tools to accelerate the process of creating superior cultivars.

Advancements in Plant Breeding

Optimizing Crop Physiology for Enhanced Agricultural Productivity

In the pursuit of enhancing crop yield, resilience, and sustainability in agricultural research for development, optimizing crop physiology plays a crucial role. By understanding the physiological processes of plants and how they respond to environmental stimuli, researchers can identify strategies to improve crop performance under varying conditions. One example that illustrates the significance of optimizing crop physiology is the study conducted on drought-tolerant maize varieties.

Drought poses a significant challenge to agricultural productivity worldwide, particularly in regions where water scarcity is prevalent. To address this issue, scientists focused on developing maize varieties with enhanced drought tolerance through physiological interventions. By studying the mechanisms involved in plant water uptake and conservation, researchers were able to select traits associated with improved water-use efficiency and stress tolerance.

To optimize crop physiology effectively, several key factors need to be considered:

  • Genetic diversity: Expanding genetic diversity helps introduce new traits that can enhance crop performance under various stressors.
  • Physiological trait identification: Identifying specific physiological traits related to stress tolerance allows breeders to develop targeted breeding programs.
  • Precision phenotyping: Utilizing advanced technologies such as remote sensing and high-throughput phenotyping enables accurate characterization of plant responses across different environments.
  • Molecular markers: Incorporating molecular markers into breeding programs facilitates efficient selection of desired traits by enabling marker-assisted selection (MAS) techniques.

These factors collectively contribute to maximizing the potential of crops by ensuring their adaptability and productivity across diverse agro-ecosystems. The table below provides an overview of selected drought-tolerant maize varieties developed through optimization of crop physiology:

This table highlights the range of characteristics exhibited by different varieties based on their optimized physiological traits. It serves as a reminder of the potential impact that crop improvement through physiological interventions can have on agricultural productivity.

The advancements in plant breeding, discussed in the subsequent section, build upon these optimized physiological traits to further enhance crop performance. Innovations in biotechnology have revolutionized the field by providing tools for precise manipulation of genetic material and accelerated breeding processes. With these advancements, scientists are now able to explore new avenues for developing improved crop varieties with enhanced yield potential and resilience to environmental stresses.

Innovations in Biotechnology

Advancements in Plant Breeding have paved the way for innovations in biotechnology, enabling researchers to explore new avenues for crop improvement. One such example is the development of genetically modified (GM) crops that possess enhanced traits, such as increased yield potential or resistance to pests and diseases. For instance, a case study involving Bt cotton demonstrated how introducing genes from Bacillus thuringiensis into cotton plants can confer protection against bollworm infestation, resulting in higher yields and reduced pesticide usage.

Biotechnology offers several advantages when it comes to crop improvement:

Precision breeding: Biotechnological tools like genetic engineering allow scientists to precisely introduce specific desirable traits into crops without affecting other characteristics. This targeted approach enables breeders to develop cultivars with improved qualities more efficiently.

Enhanced resilience: Through biotechnology, researchers are able to enhance the resilience of crops to various environmental stresses such as drought, salinity, or extreme temperatures. By manipulating genes responsible for stress response mechanisms, breeders can develop crop varieties that exhibit greater adaptability under challenging conditions.

Improved nutritional value: Biotechnology also presents opportunities for enhancing the nutritional content of crops by modifying their nutrient profiles. For example, biofortification techniques can be employed to increase essential micronutrient levels in staple food crops, addressing malnutrition and improving public health outcomes.

Sustainable agriculture: Biotech-based solutions contribute towards promoting sustainable agricultural practices by reducing reliance on chemical inputs and minimizing environmental impacts associated with conventional farming methods. Pest-resistant GM crops require fewer insecticide applications, leading to decreased chemical runoff and better preservation of ecosystems.

The table below illustrates some key examples where biotechnology has been utilized successfully in crop improvement:

With ongoing advancements in biotechnology, the potential for crop improvement continues to expand. The next section will explore how these innovations are complemented by efforts to enhance crop agronomy, further maximizing productivity while ensuring sustainability and environmental stewardship.

Enhancing Crop Agronomy

Enhancing Crop Agronomy: Maximizing Harvest Efficiency and Quality

Transitioning from the innovations in biotechnology, one key aspect of crop improvement lies in Enhancing Crop Agronomy . By implementing effective agricultural practices and techniques, farmers can optimize their yield potential while ensuring sustainable production systems. To illustrate this concept, let us consider a hypothetical case study involving wheat cultivation.

In our fictitious scenario, a group of researchers sought to improve wheat productivity by focusing on agronomic strategies. They conducted field trials comparing conventional farming methods with precision agriculture techniques such as variable rate fertilization and targeted irrigation. The results were promising, demonstrating that precision agriculture not only increased grain yields but also reduced input costs and environmental impact.

To further emphasize the significance of enhanced crop agronomy, we will explore four key benefits associated with these practices:

  • Increased resource efficiency: Precision agriculture allows for more precise application of resources like water and fertilizer, reducing waste and maximizing their utilization.
  • Enhanced resilience to climate change: Through the adoption of innovative agronomic approaches, crops become better equipped to withstand extreme weather events or changing climatic conditions.
  • Improved soil health: Implementing conservation tillage methods helps preserve soil structure, minimize erosion rates, and enhance overall soil fertility.
  • Sustainable pest management: Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies promote ecological balance by combining various control tactics such as biological controls, cultural practices, and judicious use of pesticides.

By integrating these principles into their farming operations, growers can achieve both economic prosperity and environmental sustainability. As demonstrated in Table 1 below, adopting advanced agronomic practices has numerous advantages over traditional methods.

Table 1: A comparison of traditional farming methods and advanced agronomy practices.

In summary, enhancing crop agronomy plays a crucial role in maximizing harvest efficiency and quality. By adopting precision agriculture techniques and implementing sustainable management practices, farmers can achieve higher yields while minimizing environmental impact. In the subsequent section on manipulating crop genetics, we will explore another avenue for improving agricultural productivity without explicitly mentioning “step.”

Manipulating Crop Genetics

Enhancing Crop Agronomy has proven to be a crucial aspect of crop improvement in agricultural research for development. By optimizing the management practices and environmental conditions under which crops are grown, researchers aim to maximize yield, enhance resilience against biotic and abiotic stresses, and promote sustainability in agriculture.

One example that illustrates the significance of enhancing crop agronomy is the case study conducted on rice cultivation in Southeast Asia. Researchers focused on improving water management techniques, such as alternate wetting and drying (AWD), to reduce water usage while maintaining high yields. Through implementing AWD, farmers were able to decrease irrigation requirements by up to 30% without compromising rice productivity. This not only resulted in substantial water savings but also reduced greenhouse gas emissions from flooded paddy fields.

To further emphasize the importance of enhancing crop agronomy, consider these key factors:

  • Soil health: Implementing sustainable soil management practices can improve nutrient availability and enhance soil structure, leading to increased crop productivity.
  • Integrated pest management: Incorporating various pest control strategies, including biological controls and cultural practices, can minimize reliance on chemical pesticides and promote ecosystem balance.
  • Precision farming: Utilizing advanced technologies like remote sensing and GPS-guided machinery allows for precise application of inputs, reducing resource wastage and increasing efficiency.
  • Climate-smart agriculture: Adopting climate-resilient practices such as conservation tillage or agroforestry systems helps mitigate the impacts of climate change on crop production.

Table: Benefits of Enhancing Crop Agronomy

By focusing on enhancing crop agronomy, researchers and farmers can work together to develop sustainable agricultural systems that are resilient against various challenges. Understanding the importance of optimizing management practices and environmental conditions lays the foundation for further exploration into manipulating crop genetics in pursuit of improved crop varieties.

Transitioning into the subsequent section on “Developing Resilient Crops,” this research area builds upon the principles established through enhancing crop agronomy. Through genetic manipulation techniques, scientists seek to enhance crops’ inherent traits to withstand biotic and abiotic stresses, ensuring food security in a changing world.

Developing Resilient Crops

Enhancing Yield, Resilience, and Sustainability through Crop Improvement

Crop improvement is a crucial aspect of agricultural research for development. By manipulating crop genetics, researchers have made significant advancements in enhancing yield, resilience, and sustainability in agriculture. In this section, we will explore the various strategies employed to develop crops that can withstand environmental stresses and contribute to food security.

One example demonstrating the success of genetic manipulation is the development of drought-tolerant maize varieties. Through targeted breeding techniques and genetic engineering, scientists have introduced genes responsible for enhanced water-use efficiency into existing maize cultivars. As a result, these improved varieties exhibit increased tolerance to water scarcity while maintaining high productivity levels. This breakthrough has provided farmers with a means to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change on their crop yields.

To further emphasize the importance of crop improvement in promoting sustainable agriculture, consider the following bullet points:

  • Increased disease resistance: By incorporating genes conferring resistance against common pathogens, crops become less susceptible to diseases. This reduces the need for chemical pesticides and promotes environmentally friendly farming practices.
  • Enhanced nutrient uptake: Genetic modifications allow crops to efficiently absorb nutrients from soil or other external sources. This not only improves plant growth but also minimizes fertilizer use and prevents nutrient runoff into water bodies.
  • Extended shelf life: Breeding programs aimed at delaying fruit ripening or reducing post-harvest losses help minimize food waste along supply chains.
  • Improved resource utilization: By optimizing photosynthetic processes within plants, researchers strive to increase energy conversion efficiency and reduce resource inputs required for cultivation.

The table below provides an overview of different genetic modification methods used in crop improvement efforts:

In summary, crop improvement through genetic manipulation offers tremendous opportunities for enhancing yield, resilience, and sustainability. By developing crops that are more resistant to environmental stresses such as drought or diseases, researchers contribute to global efforts towards achieving food security. In the subsequent section on sustainable crop production, we will delve into practices that not only improve agricultural productivity but also minimize negative impacts on the environment.

Transitioning seamlessly into the next section, we explore strategies for Sustainable Crop Production which build upon the advancements made in crop improvement techniques.

Sustainable Crop Production

Crop improvement plays a crucial role in agricultural research for development by focusing on enhancing yield potential, resilience, and sustainability. By implementing innovative approaches and leveraging advancements in technology, researchers aim to develop crops that can thrive under various environmental conditions while maximizing productivity. This section will explore the strategies employed to enhance crop yields and ensure long-term agricultural sustainability.

To illustrate the significance of these efforts, consider the hypothetical case study of a drought-prone region where farmers struggle to obtain high yields due to water scarcity. Researchers have identified this challenge as an opportunity to develop resilient crops capable of withstanding prolonged periods of drought stress. Through targeted breeding programs and genetic engineering techniques, scientists are working towards introducing genes responsible for enhanced water-use efficiency into existing crop varieties.

Several key strategies are being implemented to achieve improved crop performance:

  • Development of drought-tolerant cultivars through traditional breeding methods
  • Utilization of molecular markers for precise trait selection
  • Incorporation of genetic traits from wild relatives or related species
  • Adoption of precision agriculture techniques for optimized resource management

To better comprehend the impact of these strategies, let us examine their potential benefits using a three-column table:

By employing such comprehensive approaches within agricultural research for development, we can establish a foundation for sustainable farming systems that prioritize both economic viability and environmental conservation. The seamless transition into the subsequent section about “Enhancing Yield Potential” allows us to delve deeper into specific steps undertaken towards achieving this goal while building upon the strategies discussed here.

Enhancing Yield Potential

Building upon the principles of sustainable crop production, researchers are now exploring innovative strategies to enhance yield potential in agricultural systems. By focusing on increasing productivity while minimizing environmental impact, these efforts aim to address the global challenges of food security and sustainability. This section will discuss some key approaches that have been adopted to improve crop yields.

Enhancing Yield Potential: To illustrate the significance of enhancing yield potential, let us consider a case study involving maize cultivation. Farmers in a particular region were facing reduced yields due to recurring drought conditions. Researchers implemented a holistic approach that combined improved seed varieties with precision irrigation techniques and optimized nutrient management practices. As a result, farmers experienced an increase in average maize yields by 30% over three cropping seasons.

In order to further maximize crop productivity, several strategies have emerged within the realm of agricultural research:

Genetic Improvement: Breeding programs aim to develop high-yielding cultivars with enhanced resistance traits against pests, diseases, and abiotic stresses such as drought and heat. Through advanced technologies like marker-assisted selection and genetic engineering, scientists can accelerate the development process and introduce desirable traits into crops.

Precision Agriculture: Utilizing cutting-edge technologies like remote sensing, geographic information systems (GIS), and global positioning systems (GPS), precision agriculture enables farmers to optimize resource allocation based on specific field requirements. This approach allows for targeted application of inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, and water, leading to increased efficiency and reduced wastage.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM): Adopting an ecological perspective towards pest control, IPM utilizes various preventive measures like biological control agents, trap crops, pheromone traps, and cultural practices to minimize reliance on chemical pesticides. By promoting natural enemies of pests and employing sustainable pest management practices, this approach ensures long-term viability without compromising ecosystem health.

Soil Health Management: Recognizing soil as a vital resource for plant growth, emphasis is placed on maintaining and enhancing soil health. Practices such as organic matter addition, composting, cover cropping, and conservation tillage help improve soil structure, fertility, and water-holding capacity.

Table: Examples of Strategies for Enhancing Crop Yield Potential

In conclusion, efforts to enhance crop yield potential have gained significant traction in agricultural research. By adopting a multi-faceted approach that incorporates genetic improvement, precision agriculture, integrated pest management, and soil health management practices, researchers aim to achieve sustainable intensification of agricultural systems. In the subsequent section about “Improving Crop Sustainability,” we will explore how these strategies can contribute to long-term ecological balance while ensuring food security.

Improving Crop Sustainability

Building on the previous section’s discussion of enhancing yield potential in crop improvement research, this section will delve into the critical aspect of improving crop sustainability. By examining various strategies and approaches, agricultural researchers aim to develop crops that not only increase productivity but also contribute to long-term environmental conservation.

To illustrate the importance of sustainable crop improvement, consider a hypothetical case study involving rice cultivation. In many regions, rice is a staple food source, supporting millions of people worldwide. However, traditional farming practices often rely heavily on water resources and chemical inputs, leading to negative environmental impacts such as water pollution and soil degradation. To address these challenges, researchers have focused on developing drought-tolerant varieties that require less water for growth while maintaining high yields. This approach not only enhances farmers’ resilience to climate change but also reduces their dependence on irrigation systems.

In pursuit of improved crop sustainability, several key strategies are being employed:

  • Conservation agriculture: Encouraging practices like minimum tillage and cover cropping helps preserve soil structure and fertility while reducing erosion risks.
  • Integrated pest management: Implementing biological control methods alongside judicious use of pesticides minimizes ecological damage caused by excessive chemical applications.
  • Precision agriculture: Utilizing technologies such as remote sensing and data analytics allows farmers to optimize resource allocation based on specific field conditions, thus minimizing waste and maximizing efficiency.
  • Crop diversification: Promoting diverse cropping systems mitigates risks associated with mono-cropping by enhancing biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Table 1 below provides an overview of the benefits associated with sustainable crop improvement:

In summary, enhancing crop sustainability is a crucial component of agricultural research for development. By adopting sustainable practices and developing resilient varieties, researchers aim to address environmental concerns while ensuring long-term food security and economic viability. Through the strategies outlined above, stakeholders in the agricultural sector can contribute to a more sustainable future.

By incorporating these approaches into crop improvement initiatives, researchers and farmers alike play an active role in fostering resilience, conserving natural resources, and promoting sustainable agriculture on a global scale. The collective efforts towards improving yield potential and enhancing crop sustainability pave the way for a brighter future where productivity coexists harmoniously with ecological balance.

Related posts:

  • Biotechnology in Agricultural Research for Development: Advancing Crop Improvement
  • Crop Agronomy in Agricultural Research for Development: An Overview of Crop Improvement

Crop Genetics for Agricultural Research: Enhancing Crop Improvement

Crop Physiology in Agricultural Research for Development: Enhancing Crop Improvement

Plant Breeding for Crop Improvement: Agricultural Research for Development

Genetic Engineering in Agricultural Research for Development: Crop Improvement

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March 5, 2021

Importance of New Technologies for Crop Farming

by: Michael Langemeier and Michael Boehlje


Adoption of technology has been important to production agriculture for decades. Through the adoption of technology and improved managerial practices, aggregate agricultural U.S. farm output in the United States tripled from 1948 to 2017 with almost no corresponding increase in aggregate input (USDA-ERS, 2021). For reasons explained below, the adoption of technology in production agriculture is expected to accelerate in the next decade. This article discusses types of technology that are currently being adopted or that are likely to be adopted in the near future. Upcoming articles will discuss the critical role of information and precision agriculture technologies, possible payoffs of precision agriculture, automation and robotics, and gaps in skills pertaining to the adoption of new technologies.

Changes to Crop Agriculture

Crop farming around the world is undergoing a profound technological transition. The management of production is moving toward increased micro-management of production activities by individual field or location within a field driven by site-specific information about environmental, biological, and economic factors that affect physical output, profitability, and soil and water quality.

Increased use of monitoring technology will greatly expand the amount of information available regarding what affects plant growth and well-being. This will be made possible by innovations in sensors to use in monitoring and control systems, communication technologies, and data analytics. In addition, greater understanding of how various growth and environmental factors interact is forthcoming. This understanding will then be incorporated into management systems to determine optimum combinations of inputs at the field or within a field level. Precision farming in crop production includes the use of global positioning systems (GPS), yield monitors, and variable rate application technology to more precisely apply crop inputs to enhance growth, lower cost, and reduce environmental degradation.

Growing crops through precision production practices might be described as “biological manufacturing” which combines biotechnology and nutritional technology; monitoring, measuring, and information technology; and process control technology. The critical linchpin among these “technologies buckets” for successful execution is the data and information that can be continuously captured and utilized to manage the system and intervene in real time to control and enhance the plant growth process.

The transition of production agriculture from an industry that grows crops to one that biologically manufactures raw materials with specific attributes and characteristics for food and industrial use products is well underway. The discussion below will focus on three types of technology: biotechnology and nutritional technology; monitoring, measuring, and information technology; and process control technology.

Biotechnology and Nutritional Technology

The focus of biotechnology and nutritional technology is to manipulate the growth, attribute development, and deterioration process in plant production. An improved scientific base impacts not only plant growth but attribute development and is providing additional capacity to manipulate and control processes. Also, biotechnology is advancing our capacity to control and manipulate plant growth and development including attribute composition (for example, starch or amino acid composition) through genetic manipulation. By combining nutritional and biotechnology concepts with mechanical and other technologies to control or adjust the growth environment (temperature, humidity and moisture, pest and disease infestation, etc.), the process control approach and thinking that is part of the assembly line used in mechanical manufacturing becomes closer to reality in biological manufacturing.

Monitoring, Measuring, and Information Technology

The focus of this technology is to trace the development and/or deterioration of attributes in the plant growth process, and to measure the impact of controllable and uncontrollable variables that are impacting that growth process. In crop production, yield monitors, global positioning systems (GPS), global information systems (GIS), satellite or aerial photography and imagery, weather monitoring and measuring systems, and plant and soil sensing systems are part of this technology. In future years, inplant sensors to detect growth rates and disease characteristics may be available. These systems will be tied to growth models to detect ways to improve plant growth performance, as well as to financial and physical performance accounting systems to monitor overall performance. The computer technology to manipulate the massive amounts of information is readily available; new monitoring and measuring technology including near-infrared (NIR) and electromagnetic scanning is now being developed to measure a broad spectrum of characteristics of the plant growth process.

Process Control Technology

The concept of process control technology is to intervene with the proper adjustments or controls that will close the gap any time actual performance of a process deviates from potential performance. Greenhouse production increasingly utilizes such technology to manipulate sunlight, humidity, temperature, and other characteristics of the plant growth environment. Irrigation systems are an example of this technology in field crop production; modern irrigation systems tied to weather stations and plant and soil sensors automatically turn irrigation systems on and off to ensure that moisture levels are adequate for optimum growth. Variable rate application of fertilizer and chemicals and row shut-off technology are current examples of process control technology in rain-fed crop production. Modern precision planter technology that automatically adjusts seed placement, depth, and soil coverage based on soil sensors is another example.

Combining real time monitoring and measuring technology with anytime intervention process control technology has the potential to generate significant benefits. Any-time intervention technology allows one to detect a problem when it occurs and in real-time solve that problem rather than anticipate a possible problem and preemptively dispense control inputs that may be completely unnecessary (and thus costly) and possibly even harmful to the growth environment if that problem does not occur. For example, anytime intervention technology allows the detection of corn borers and the treatment of those borers once they meet an economic threshold, rather than spending funds and using materials in anticipation that a corn borer infestation might occur which are unneeded if the infestation does not reach an economic threshold during the growing season. A similar approach might be used to control weeds. Similar approaches to fertility management may facilitate lower levels of pre-season fertilizer applications by enabling additional applications during the growth season as real-time sensing technology and drop-down nozzle attachments for high clearance equipment enable split applications of fertilizer to be applied when needed. If such technology is developed, it may be less essential to use biotechnology to control certain insects or larger than necessary fertilizer applications to insure the optimum yield.

It would be unrealistic to expect these process control and sensing technologies and methods to be as successful as they have been in industrial manufacturing in reducing variability and systemizing the processes of producing manufactured goods such as automobiles, computers, or even chemical and industrial goods. However, it is also unrealistic to ignore the potential of these technologies in reducing variability and obtaining more control over biological growth processes so as to increase efficiency, reduce costs, improve quality, minimize environmental impacts and in general more systematically produce biological based attributes for food, feed, fuel, and fiber raw materials. In essence, this is what the concepts of biological manufacturing are all about, to use monitoring and measuring, biological and nutritional manipulation, and process control technologies to systematically manufacture food and industrial use products.

Concluding Comments

This article discusses types of technology that are currently being adopted or that are likely to be adopted in the near future. Specifically, technologies related to biotechnology and nutrition; technologies related to monitoring, measuring, and information; and technologies related to process control were briefly described. It is not an understatement to note that these technologies are going to result in profound changes to production agriculture operations. Upcoming articles will discuss the critical role of information technologies, possible payoffs of precision agriculture, automation and robotics, and gaps in skills pertaining to the adoption of new technologies in production agriculture.


Erickson, B. and J. Lowenberg-DeBoer. “2020 Precision Agriculture Dealership Survey.” Departments of Agricultural Economics and Agronomy, Purdue University, August 2020.

Pope, M. and S. Sonka. “Evidence, Data and Farmer Decision Making.” farmdoc daily (10):45, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, March 11, 2020.

Thompson, N.M., C. Bir, D.A. Widmar, and J.R. Mintert. “Farmer Perceptions of Precision Agriculture Technology Benefits.” Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics. 51(Issue 1, 2019):142-163.

United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. Statistics Service. Agricultural Productivity in the U.S., , accessed on February 26, 2021.


Michael Boehlje

Michael Boehlje

Michael Langemeier

Michael Langemeier

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Article Contents

Trends in crop production, the main constraints in further improving crop production, the way forward, conclusions.

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Improving crop productivity and resource use efficiency to ensure food security and environmental quality in China

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Mingsheng Fan, Jianbo Shen, Lixing Yuan, Rongfeng Jiang, Xinping Chen, William J. Davies, Fusuo Zhang, Improving crop productivity and resource use efficiency to ensure food security and environmental quality in China, Journal of Experimental Botany , Volume 63, Issue 1, January 2012, Pages 13–24,

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In recent years, agricultural growth in China has accelerated remarkably, but most of this growth has been driven by increased yield per unit area rather than by expansion of the cultivated area. Looking towards 2030, to meet the demand for grain and to feed a growing population on the available arable land, it is suggested that annual crop production should be increased to around 580 Mt and that yield should increase by at least 2% annually. Crop production will become more difficult with climate change, resource scarcity (e.g. land, water, energy, and nutrients) and environmental degradation (e.g. declining soil quality, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and surface water eutrophication). To pursue the fastest and most practical route to improved yield, the near-term strategy is application and extension of existing agricultural technologies. This would lead to substantial improvement in crop and soil management practices, which are currently suboptimal. Two pivotal components are required if we are to follow new trajectories. First, the disciplines of soil management and agronomy need to be given increased emphasis in research and teaching, as part of a grand food security challenge. Second, continued genetic improvement in crop varieties will be vital. However, our view is that the biggest gains from improved technology will come most immediately from combinations of improved crops and improved agronomical practices. The objectives of this paper are to summarize the historical trend of crop production in China and to examine the main constraints to the further increase of crop productivity. The paper provides a perspective on the challenge faced by science and technology in agriculture which must be met both in terms of increased crop productivity but also in increased resource use efficiency and the protection of environmental quality.

Increased crop production and yield

Over the last 50 years there has been remarkable growth in agricultural production in China. This has created the so-called ‘Miracle in China’ with 7% of the world's arable land feeding 22% of the world's population.

Chinese cereal production has increased steadily from 83.4 Mt in 1961 to 474.2 Mt in 2009 ( Fig. 1A ), accounting for 9.5% of total global cereal production in 1961 and 21.8% in 2009. The net increase over this period is 390.8 Mt with an annual growth rate of 3.7%, which is substantially higher than the world mean growth rate in cereal production of 2% during the same period. In 2009, China was responsible for approximately 29.1% of global rice production, 20% of maize, and 16.9% of wheat production (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 1950–2010; FAO, 2010 ). The success of crop production in China has impacted on both global food supply and on natural resource use and availability and both of these changes have received global recognition.

Production and cultivation areas of cereal crops (rice+wheat+maize) (A), grain yields of rice, wheat, and maize (B) and trends in all fertilizer and N fertilizer consumption in China from 1961 to 2009. The consumption is the apparent whole consumption in China based on the calculation of balance (production+imports–exports). Source: China Agriculture Yearbook . FAO STAT electronic databases ( )

Historically, cereal production has been dominant in the south of the country and practised less in the north of China. However, over the last few decades the balance has shifted to some extent. From 1980 to 2008, total cereal cultivation area decreased by 3.77 Mha in the Yangtze River Basin, by 3.27 Mha in south China, and by 0.81 Mha in South-West China, where rice-based cropping systems are dominant. In contrast, the cereal cultivation area increased by 5.42 M ha on the North China Plain and in North-East China. Total cereal production in the north increased from 129 Mt in 1980 to 283.5 Mt in 2008, which accounted for 41.4% of the national total cereal production in 1980 and 57.5% in 2008 (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 1950–2010). As a result, the North China Plain and the North-East of China have become important cereal production and food-commodity supply regions. In these regions, however, water availability for agriculture is becoming a major issue for the nation.

The increase in total crop production in China has arisen mainly as a result of increases in yield per unit area rather than from increases in the cultivated area. For example, from 1961 to 2009 there was a 3.2-fold increase in the productivity of rice (from 2041 kg ha −1 to 6585 kg ha −1 ), an 8.5-fold increase in the productivity of wheat (from 557 kg ha −1 to 4739 kg ha −1 ), and a 4.6-fold increase in the productivity of maize (from 1139 kg ha −1 to 5258 kg ha −1 ) ( Fig. 1B ). Over the same period the total cultivated area of cereals increased by only 30% (from 65.5 Mha in 1961 to 85.1 Mha in 2009) (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 1950–2010; Fig. 1A ).

Intensification of crop production contributes to increased yield

Intensification of crop production over the last 50 years has come to be known as the ‘green revolution’ and has been achieved by the use of modern high-yielding varieties while greater benefits have been realized from chemical fertilizers, irrigation, and weed and pest control.

The consumption of fertilizer in China has increased linearly since 1961. The total consumption of chemical fertilizers exceeded 64 Mt in 2009, and this is nearly 35% of the total global fertilizer consumption. Use of nitrogen (N) fertilizer has increased from 0.5 Mt in 1961 to 46.6 Mt in 2009 (Consumption=production+import–export, Revised from National Bureau of Statistics of China, 1950–2010, Fig. 1C ). The area of irrigated farmland has expanded by 32% since the 1970s and the effective area of irrigated farmland has now reached 58.5 Mha. This is 48% of the total arable land area in China, but it produces 75% of the national grain production and 90% of the products from cash crops (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 1950–2010). Chemical use increased from 0.76 Mt in 1991 to 1.76 Mt in 2005 (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 1950–2010). As the second-largest producer and consumer of pesticides, use in China accounts for 14% of the world total and the country has now become a net exporter ( Liu and Diamond, 2005 ). Without the use of synthetic fertilizers, irrigatio, and chemicals, China's food production could not have increased at the rates recorded.

Figure 2 shows that intensification of maize production has occurred with time. Improvements in maize varieties and cropping techniques have contributed to increased grain yield per unit area since 1960s in China ( Li and Wang, 2009 ). In the 1960s, double-cross hybrids were dominant and use was combined with planting technologies focused on improving the condition of farmland. Planting density was also increased at this time. Since the 1970s, single-cross hybrids have been extensively used. The main trends in the development of breeding strategies to increase maize yield potential included selection for disease-resistance traits, the improvement of above-ground plant architecture, stay-green and late-maturing characteristics. Planting technologies were characterized by the use of chemical fertilizers, irrigation, weed and pest control, higher planting density, and soil quality improvement. As management intensity increased, planting technologies shifted from the use of novel individual techniques to more technical integration. For example, chemical fertilizer use was largely just N fertilization in the 1970s with both N and P additions common in the 1980s and use of combined NPK fertilizers used much more often in the 1990s and 2000s. Chemical fertilizer rate has increased greatly since the 1990s.

The main varieties and techniques of maize production from the 1960s to the 2000s in China. In the 1960s, double-cross hybrids were dominant with main planting technologies characterized by improving farmland condition and increasing planting density. Since the 1970s, single-cross hybrids have been extensively used. The main trends in the development of breeding strategies to increase maize yield potential including disease-resistant gene selection, plant canopy architecture improvement, stay green, and late-maturing. Planting technologies were characterized by the use of chemical fertilizers, irrigation, weed and pest control, higher plant density, and soil quality improvement. However, increased management intensity was observed: planting technologies had shifted from individual techniques to technical integration. For example, chemical fertilizer types were used from sole N in the 1970s to N and P in the 1980s, and even to the combination of NPK in the 1990s and 2000s. Chemical fertilizer rate has greatly increased since the 1990s. (Adapted from Li and Wang, 2009 , and reproduced by kind permission of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.)

Declining rates of yield increase

Despite the achievement of increased crop production and grain yield per unit area, annual growth rates of cereal yields are gradually declining. For example, the average growth rate of cereal yields decreased from 4% in the 1970s to 1.9% in the 1990s. Over the last 10 years, rice and maize yields have shown declining or stagnant trends in most provinces in China. Inappropriate crop management practices, especially poor nutrient, soil, and water management, are likely to be responsible ( Dawe et al. , 2000 ; Peng et al. , 2002 ; Ladha et al. , 2003 ; Zhang et al. , 2007 ; Peng, 2011 ). Nevertheless, wheat yields have increased in most regions. This may be due to increasing rainfall in the autumn and winter in northern China providing better conditions for wheat growth and increased incentives for farmers to plant grass, fruit trees, and other alternative crops in some regions with low wheat yields.

If it is assumed that dietary trends in China continue and that the Chinese population will stabilize at around 1.6 billion after another 20 years, the demand for grain can only be met and the population fed on the remaining arable land if annual crop production can be increased to around 580 Mt. To achieve this, grain yield in China must increase by 2% annually over the next 20 years ( Fan et al. , 2010 ). However, further increases in crop production will be more problematic than has been the case for the last 50 years. The availability of water and good soil are major limiting factors for China. Agricultural inputs must be reduced, especially N and phosphorus (P) fertilizer, overuse of which have led to environmental problems such as increased greenhouse gas emissions and severe water pollution in parts of China. Furthermore, climate change will also aggravate crop stresses such as heat, drought, salinity, and submergence in water.

Limited arable land and poor soil quality

A long history of arable farming and steady increases in human population have led to the depletion of arable land reserves in China ( Li and Sun, 1990 ). For example, the population has more than doubled since the 1950s to its current level of 1.3 billion but the total arable land area has expanded by only 29% to the current 134.5 Mha (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 1950–2010). The per capita arable land area is 0.1 ha at present, which is 45% of the world average ( Wang et al. , 2009 a ). China has used almost every piece of available land for agriculture. The potential to increase grain area will therefore be limited in the future, and more food will need to be produced from the same amount of (or even less) land. Now, it is clear that it will become more important to adopt technological and policy measures to improve the sustainability of agriculture as well as to increase grain yield per unit area of arable land.

Most arable land in China has poor soil quality, so that it is difficult to achieve high crop yields. For instance, in North-East China, grain yields on low productivity soils were less than 1500 kg ha −1 , but the corresponding average value was 7595 kg ha −1 on high productivity land ( Fan et al. , 2010 ). The areas of high, medium, and low productivity land account for 28.7, 30.1, and 41.2% of the total arable land in China, respectively ( Wang, 2005 ). Soil organic matter (SOM), a key indicator of soil quality, is still low in Chinese cropping systems although recent studies show SOM in croplands has increased since the 1980s ( Xie et al. , 2007 ; Huang and Sun, 2006 ; Lu et al. , 2009 ; Piao et al. , 2009 ). The average content of SOM in topsoil from cropland is 10 g kg −1 in China compared with 25-40 g kg −1 in European countries and the United States ( Fan et al. , 2010 ). Soil degradation, a reduction in soil quality as a result of human activities, is a very serious problem in China. Of the total degraded land area in the world estimated to be 1964 Mha ( Oldeman et al. , 1991 ), degraded land in China comprises 145 Mha or 7.4% of the world total ( Lal, 2002 ). The average thickness of topsoil in China over a 50-year period progressively decreased from 22.9 cm in the 1930s to 17.6 cm in the 1980s ( Lindert, 2000 ). Some soils are likely to be even thinner now due to the intensity of erosional and depositional processes.

To enhance crop production in China with efficient resource utilization, improvement in soil quality is critical. By definition, low quality soil has a lower resource buffer than exists in good soil and this decreases the margin of error for nearly all crop management practices. Improving the recycling of organic manures such as animal and human excreta, crop straw and stalks, and green manure can be an important step towards saving natural resources and, simultaneously, stabilizing and optimizing soil quality in crop production systems. Novel soil management practices should be developed and promoted in China. For example, biochar addition to soils is an ancient practice which has recently begun to attract wider notice. Incorporation of biochar represents a means of sequestrating carbon and there is increasing evidence that although there may be some negative effects of incorporation, it can also reduce nutrient leaching and impact positively on the slow release of nutrients to enhance crop yields ( Marris, 2006 ; Lehmann, 2007 ). Zero-till or reduced till practices, which have rarely been practised in China until now, have reportedly allowed sustained yields with largely positive effects on ecosystem services in some parts of the world. Although there is some doubt about positive effects on greenhouse gas emissions ( Rochette, 2008 ), there are reports of fewer weeds, more beneficial insects and improved water use efficiency resulting from this practice ( Hobbs et al. , 2008 ). Reduced till may be especially beneficial on low productivity land.

Water shortage

Of all China's environmental woes, the biggest threat to livelihoods and food security may be looming water shortages ( Li, 2010 , Peng, 2011 ). China's total fresh water volume is 2.81×10 12 m 3 , with 2.7×10 12 m 3 of surface water and 0.83×10 12 m 3 of groundwater ( The Ministry of Water Resources of the People's Republic of China, 2009 ). Although this water resource is large in absolute value, ranking sixth in the world, the per capita water resource is only 25% of the world average ( Wang et al. , 2008 ). China is listed as one of the 13 countries which are shortest of water. Moreover, the distribution of water resources is spatially and seasonally uneven. The north of the country, similar in land area and population to the south, holds only 18% of the total water despite having 65% of the total arable land. By contrast, the south receives water from summer rainfalls, which is often ‘wasted’ through flooding ( Piao et al. , 2010 ).

Agricultural water use is a major part of all water used annually. However, increased water shortage associated with overuse of surface water, declining groundwater levels and water pollution is threatening the sustainability of agricultural production. The share of irrigation in total water use in China has declined from 80% in 1980s to 65% in 2009 ( The Ministry of Water Resources of the People's Republic of China, 2009 ). Annual water shortage in agriculture amounts to 30×10 10 m 3 in China. By 2030, China's total water deficit could reach 130×10 10 m 3 ( Li, 2006 ).

The outlook for water shortage is especially dire on the North China Plain (NCP), one of the main grain production areas in China. This plain comprises 33.8% of the national arable land, but only has 3.85% of the national water resources. Over the past 40 years, NCP's water table has fallen steadily as some 120×10 10 m 3 more water has been pumped from the land than the amount replaced by rainfall ( Li, 2010 ). The current plan for a northern diversion of the Yangtze would not, however, benefit agriculture.

Agricultural water use efficiency (WUE) which is defined as grain produced per unit of water consumed is still very low in China due to poor irrigation management practices ( Wang et al. , 2002 ; Deng et al. , 2006 ) and lack of investment in infrastructure ( Xu and Zhao, 2001 ; Lohmar et al. , 2003 ). The average WUE of three main grain crops in China is 1.12 kg m −3 with 0.85 kg m −3 for rice, 1.01 kg m −3 for wheat, and 1.51 kg m −3 for maize, respectively ( Li and Peng, 2009 ). Zwart and Bastiaanssen (2004) , who reviewed 84 literature sources for experiments around the world which are not older than 25 years, found that the average WUE of rice, wheat, and maize was 1.09, 1.09, and 1.80 kg m -3 , respectively. Thus, the overall WUE of grain production in China has fallen behind the world average. This implies that there are tremendous opportunities for China to reduce water consumption with no reduction or even an increase in grain yield ( Wang et al. , 2002 ; Hu et al. , 2006 ). However, increasing crop productivity in China still requires innovative approaches to water saving in agriculture.

Low nutrient use efficiency and environmental pollution

Increase in fertilizer nutrient input has made a significant contribution to the improvement of crop yields in China. Fertilizer consumption has increased almost linearly ( Fig. 1C ). China is currently the world's largest consumer of fertilizer.

Unfortunately, since about 1990, the increase in grain production has been associated with a major decline in fertilizer nutrient use efficiency, especially N, and with widespread environmental damage. According to yearly data for grain yield and synthetic N consumption (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 1950–2010), the partial factor productivity of applied N (PFP, the ratio of yield to the amount of applied N) has been halved over the last 30 years. The recovery efficiency of N (% fertilizer N recovered in above-ground crop biomass, REN) for cereal crops was 35% on average in the 1990s. However, this value has gradually reduced since then and the current REN is 28.3% for rice, 28.2% for wheat, and 26.1% for maize ( Zhang et al. , 2008 , a ), all of which are lower than the world values (40–60%). Similarly, Ma (2006) reported that the contribution of synthetic N to increased grain yield in China was 30.8% between 1978 and 1984 but declined to 10.4% between 1999 and 2003.

The low nutrient use efficiency may be attributed to fertilizer overuse and high nutrient loss resulting from inappropriate timing and methods of fertilizer application, especially in high-yielding fields. For example, the average amount of N applied for the winter wheat–summer maize double-cropping system in the North China Plain increased from 143 kg ha −1 in 1967 to about 384 kg ha −1 in 1988 and 670 kg ha −1 in 2000 ( Zhen et al. , 2006 ). The average fertilizer N application rate for rice of 150 kg ha −1 is higher than in most countries and as much as 67% above the global average, but application rates of 150–250 kg N ha −1 are common in China and can reach 300 kg N ha −1 in some places ( Roelcke et al. , 2004 ; Peng et al. , 2010 ). Following an on-farm country-wide survey, Li et al. (2010) found that N fertilizer rates for cereal crops still show an increasing trend: the rates were 204 kg N ha −1 for wheat, 199 kg N ha −1 for maize, and 217 kg N ha −1 for rice in 2000. In 2007, rates had increased to 229 kg N ha −1 for wheat, 237 kg N ha −1 for maize, and 231 N kg ha −1 for rice. Fertilizer application is not often based on real-time nutrient requirements of the crop and/or site-specific knowledge of soil nutrient status. For example, in rice production systems most farmers apply N in two split dressings (basal and top-dressings) within the first 10 d of the rice growing season ( Fan et al. , 2007 ). In the intensive wheat–maize system in China, applying large amounts of N fertilizer before planting or at the early growth stage constitutes standard management practice to ensure adequate N for the whole growing season, and this N supply rate is usually about 50% of the total amount given ( Cui et al. , 2010 ). This large amount of basal fertilizer-N is prone to loss over an extended period because the plants require time to develop their root systems and a significant demand for N.

Irrational fertilizer utilization has led to substantial environmental pollution. For example, losses of N and P through leaching and runoff have led to drinking water pollution which affects 30% of the population and results in the eutrophication of 61% of lakes in the country. Annual synthetic fertilizer N-induced N 2 O emission from Chinese croplands has increased from 120 Gg N 2 O-N yr −1 in the 1980s to 210 Gg N 2 O-N yr −1 in the 1990s ( Zou et al. , 2010 ). Another case study shows that soil pH in the major Chinese crop-production areas has declined significantly from the 1980s to the 2000s because of excessive N fertilizer inputs ( Guo et al. , 2010 ).

In conclusion, rationalization of nutrient application to deliver greater nutrient use efficiency and reduced environmental risks is urgently required in China. There is now overwhelming evidence that the quantities of fertilizer applied could be reduced with no detrimental effect on yield. Crop yields might even be increased by a reduced use of fertilizer ( Wilkinson et al. , 2007 ; Fan et al. , 2008 ). The great challenge ahead is to determine how crop productivity can be further increased to feed a growing population while minimizing nutrient loss and any subsequent environmental damage for China. In reality, achieving such a target represents one of the greatest scientific challenges facing humankind ( Tilman et al. , 2002 ).

The impacts of climate change on agriculture

Climate change and its impacts on crop production are major forces with which China will have to cope in the twenty-first century (Editorial Board of Science Press, 2007; Godfray et al. , 2010 ). Rising temperature, altered rainfall patterns, and more frequent extreme events will increasingly affect crop production, often in those places that are already most vulnerable ( Morton, 2007 ). In China, the clear warming has occurred in recent decades. The average temperature has increased by 1.2 °C since 1961. Precipitation patterns show significant regional trends. The drier regions of northeastern China (including North China and North-East China) are receiving less and less precipitation in summer and autumn. By contrast, the wetter region of southern China is experiencing more rainfall during both summer and winter ( Piao et al. , 2010 ). China is at risk from heavy rainfalls, heat waves, and drought ( Zhai et al. , 2005 ; Su et al. , 2008 ; Wei and Chen, 2009 ).

Countrywide, a 4.5% reduction in wheat yields is thought to be due to rising temperatures over the period 1979–2000 ( You et al. , 2009 ). Maize yields may also have been sensitive to recent warming, with data from eight Chinese provinces showing a negative response to rising temperature during the period 1979–2002. By contrast, rice yields in the north east appear to have increased by 4.5–14.6% per °C in response to night-time warming between 1951 and 2002 ( Tao et al. , 2008 ). However, improvements in crop management have been so influential that they prevent a clear conclusion on the net impact of historical climate change on agriculture in China ( Piao et al. , 2010 ). For instance, the autonomous adoption of new crop varieties seems to have compensated for the negative impact of climate change on both wheat and maize production in the North China Plain ( Liu et al. , 2010 ).

IPCC global climate models suggest that the climate warming trend will continue and China's average temperature is estimated to increase further by 1–5 °C by 2100 ( Meehl et al. , 2007 ). Cereal yields may benefit globally from the synergy of climate change and the fertilizing effect of elevated CO 2 ( Chavas et al. , 2009 ; Xiong et al. , 2009 ), but the impacts of climate change on crop production is still largely uncertain ( Piao et al. , 2010 ). This is because the magnitude of the CO 2 fertilization effect on crop yield is still uncertain and a matter of debate ( Baker, 2004 ; Bannayan et al. , 2005 ; Sakai et al. , 2006 ; Li et al. , 2007 ; Ma et al. , 2007 ; Ziska, 2008 ) and not all the effects of climate, for example, O 3 pollution, are included in the current projections ( Piao et al. , 2010 ; Wilkinson and Davies, 2010 ). Another important source of uncertainty in current projections lies in the potential of crop production to adapt to climate change. This implies that the future adverse effect of climate change might be ameliorated by developing and using improved agronomic practices and improved crop germplasm ( Lobell et al. , 2008 ).

Intensification leading to increased yields per unit area provided most of the recent doubling of agricultural production. The potential for a further doubling in yields now attracts increasing attention and research. The need to revitalize yield growth with few resources and in a sustainable manner is not under question. Several conceptual frameworks have been proposed for such an advance, such as ‘Ecological Intensification’ ( Cassman, 1999 ), ‘Evergreen Revolution’ ( Swaminathan, 2000 ), and ‘Sustainable Intensification’ ( Baulcombe et al. , 2009 ). However, the key question is how are we to achieve this objective in the face of several constraints, including land and water scarcity, environmental degradation, and climate change.

Two issues are emphasized which are crucial if crop productivity is to be increased with efficient resource use while limiting environmental degradation ( Fig. 3 ). The initial challenge is how to apply good governance to change suboptimal crop and soil management practices using existing agricultural sciences and technologies. At the same time, advances in crop productivity will be needed. Two pivotal components are required to follow new trajectories: (i) the development of integrated soil–crop systems management (ISSM), which will address key constraints in existing crop varieties, and (ii) the production of new crop varieties that offer higher yields but use less water, fertilizer or other inputs and are more resistant to drought, heat, submersion, and pests and diseases.

Conceptual model for optimal crop production to achieve synchronously increasing crop productivity, improving resource use efficiency, and environmental protection in China. (A) The current status in crop productivity on farm fields. (B) Scenario of crop productivity upon application of the existing technologies. (C) Scenario of crop productivity upon improved soil and crop management such as integrated soil—crop systems management, in existing crop varieties. (D) Scenario of crop productivity upon improved soil and crop management and improved crop varieties.

Application and extension of existing technologies countrywide

Despite the fact that cereal yields per unit area have shown a remarkable increase since 1961, inappropriate crop management practices are still very common in China today. Available evidence suggests that the yield gap between average farm yields and the regional variety test experiments for major cereal crops are derived from factors such as: (i) low profitability of crop production; (ii) limited access to new agricultural technologies, and (iii) poor soil and crop management by farmers ( Lobell et al. , 2009 ; Fan et al. , 2010 ). China has devoted great effort to developing easy-application and low-cost technology in agriculture, and has recently made remarkable progress. For example, since 2003, a strategy has been followed which promotes the integrated use of nutrients from various resources and N management and emphasizes the synchronization of supply and crop demand ( Fan et al. , 2008 ). Integrated nutrient management techniques can, on average, increased grain yield by 9.2–14.6%, and raise N fertilizer partial productivity by 10.5–18.5%, compared with conventional agricultural practice with cereal crops ( Table 1 ). In a recent study, a triangular transplanting pattern and split N fertilizer application in the South-West of China has led to 22% increase in rice yields with improved REN of 119% ( Fan et al. , 2009 ). It has been well recognized that the WUE can be improved with maintained or even increased crop yield by use of water-saving techniques ( Davies et al. , 2010 ). Examples of these are alternate wetting and drying irrigation for rice ( Yang and Zhang, 2010 ), mulching (plastic film or crop straw) for both rice and upland crops ( Fan et al. , 2005 a , b ; , Zhang et al. , 2008 b ; , Wang et al. , 2009 b ), deficit irrigation for upland crops ( Fereres and Soriano, 2007 ), and alternate furrow irrigation for maize ( Du et al. , 2010 ). Net reductions in some greenhouse gas emission can potentially be achieved by changing agronomic practices. For example, improving N management can greatly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) (N 2 O and CO 2 ) emissions from Chinese croplands ( Huang and Tang, 2010 ).

On-farm evaluation of performance of integrated nutrient management in yield and partial productivity of N fertilizer (PFP-N) compared with farmers’ conventional practices in major cereal cropping systems in 110 agricultural counties in China

Our view is that the most effective near-term strategy for improving crop productivity for China is application and extension where possible of existing technologies in current agricultural systems. The situation is a little similar to the case of the African smallholder farmers, for example, in Malawi, where maize yields were doubled, even tripled within 2–3 years on a national scale. This was achieved through improved seed and fertilizer use, and good governance from an input subsidy programme supported by both international agencies and local government ( Denning et al. , 2009 ).

However, the key issue is how existing agricultural technologies can be quickly accessed and adopted by farmers? Currently, the efficiency of the agricultural technology extension system in China is low. There have been serious difficulties such as lack of investment, and poor training of technicians ( Research Centre of Rural Economy of Ministry of Agriculture, 2005 ). Due to small-scale farming, economic benefits derived from improved management practices generally do not translate into economic incentives which induce farmers to adopt new technologies voluntarily. Therefore, incentive measurements such as farming subsidies may be useful to encourage the farmer to adopt new technologies and change inappropriate management practices. A multiple approach of extension, involving official extension systems, enterprise and non-government organizations (NGOs) such as farmers’ special associations should be pursued simultaneously to promote the dissemination of technologies. A lack of appropriate extension services have been identified as a problem in many farming systems around the world ( Baulcombe et al. , 2009 )

Advances in crop production

Development of integrated soil–crop systems management:.

Existing knowledge and technology can, to a certain extent, improve management practices of farmers, but will be unlikely to increase production to the level that is needed to allow a response to international challenges with a doubling of food production by 2030. Greater advances in crop production, which must follow new trajectories, are needed during the next 20 years to ensure a substantial increase in cereal yield and ensure food security. The science of crop and soil management and agricultural practice needs to be given particular emphasis as part of a food security grand challenge ( Baulcombe et al. , 2009 ). Despite the enormous importance of the subject and the growing number of specific studies, a multi-disciplinary synthesis of novel understanding and even the established understanding of plant science, agronomy, soil science, and agroecology is scarce in China. The development of more ecologically-influenced agricultural systems that integrate features of traditional agricultural knowledge and add new ecological knowledge into the intensification process will be needed ( Matson and Vitousek, 2006 ).

An ISSM approach is advocated here, addressing the key constraints to yield in existing crop varieties. Such constraints may be low soil fertility, water shortage, low nutrient use efficiencies, and impacts of climate change etc ( Fig. 4 ). In this approach, advances are needed to help us understand coupling mechanisms between plants and climate, plants and soil, plant/microbial biology and ecology, and rhizosphere interaction and management ( Zhang et al. , 2010 ). In this area, the key proposals are: (i) take all possible measures to improve soil quality, (ii) integrate the utilization of various nutrient resources and match nutrient supply to crop requirements, and (iii) integrate soil and nutrient management with high yielding cultivation systems ( Zhang et al. , 2011 ).

Conceptual model of an integrated soil–crop systems management approach. Note: Temp., temperature; Prec. precipitation. (Figure taken from Chen et al. , 2011 , and reproduced by kind permission of the National Academy of Sciences.)

Recently, an ‘integrated soil–crop systems of management for maize’ has been demonstrated. This involves the use of the Hybrid-Maize simulation model to maximize the use of solar radiation and the exploitation of temperature changes. To design crop and nutrient management for given ecological conditions, it also uses a root-zone in-season N management strategy to synchronize N supply from soil and fertilizer and the N demand of the crop ( Chen et al. , 2011 ). Current studies on the NCP show that this ISSM system could generate 14.6 t h −1 maize grain yields with 265 kg N ha −1 fertilizer application. This yield level is 2.4 times higher than that achieved by farmers’ practices, but the amount of N fertilizer applied is similar to farmers’ practice. Thus, N efficiency is increased 2.4 times above farmers’ practices ( Fig. 5 ).

Performance of an integrated soil–crop systems management (ISSM) in the North China Plain. The ISSM uses the hybrid-maize simulation model to maximize the use of solar radiation and temperature, a root-zone in-season N management strategy by synchronizing the N supply from soil and fertilizer and the N demand of crop. Right: ISSM with grain yield of 14.6 t ha −1 , and partial factor productivity of applied N (PFP-N) of 56 kg kg −1 , Left: farmer's practices (FP) with grain yield of 6 t ha −1 , N fertilizer PFP of 20 kg kg −1 .

The above research for maize has illustrated the potential for substantial improvements in yield with higher input efficiency by ISSM approaches. Much more analysis is required for maize, and also for other major crops to establish how yield can be increased as the result of genotype, environment, and management interaction. This type of analysis permits an understanding of the factors that lie behind regional and crop differences in limitations in yield improvement. These insights can then be used to apply more targeted research and develop ISSM as needed.

Continued genetic improvement in crop varieties:

Improving yield potential of crop varieties through plant breeding will be a critical component for future food security ( Foulkes et al. , 2010 ). Yield potential is defined as the yield of a crop cultivar when grown in environments to which it is adapted, with nutrients and water non-limiting and pests and diseases effectively controlled ( Evans, 1996 ). When average farm yields reach about 80% of the yield potential ceiling, it becomes more difficult for farmers to sustain yield increases through fine-tuning in soil, crop, water, nutrient, and pest management ( Cassman, 1999 ). Rice yield, especially in those productive regions, appear to be at or near 80% of yield potential in China ( Cassman et al. , 2003 ). Recently, it was found that an ISSM approach to management of rice led to a significant increase in N use efficiency but only a small increase in grain yield. This may suggest that further increases in rice yield will mostly depend on the improvement of yield potential. However, there is less certainty over how close we are to delivering yield potential in Chinese maize and wheat production. For example, in the last ten years, wheat yields increased by 2.7% per year in China. Chen et al. (2011) reached nearly 12.8 t ha −1 maize managed by ISSM across several ecological regions of China. This is twice the response to current farmers’ practices (see above). Therefore, closing the current yield gaps for maize and wheat may be a priority for agricultural researchers to ensure food security in China. For a long-term view, plant breeders still need to focus on the traits with the greatest potential to increase wheat and maize yields.

In the context of global environmental changes and other constraints to increase yield for China further, the efficient use of nutrient, especially N, and water have emerged as two key targets. New crop varieties will need to be more efficient in their use of reduced levels of nutrients ( Godfray et al. , 2010 ; Tester and Langridge, 2010 ). Crop varieties with increased tolerance to drought are also required in many parts of the world but particularly in China ( Morison et al. 2008 ).

In the last half-century, traditional plant breeding has occurred almost entirely under management regimes that include fumigated soils with extravagant additions of nutrients and sufficient water ( Boyer, 1982 ). This has potentially selected against traits that allow plants to maintain high net primary productivity (NPP) and yields under non-saturating nutrient conditions ( Jackson and Koch, 1997 ). For example, breeding for increased rice yield potential has been focused on increasing panicle size and improving lodging resistance with thick stems in China. Therefore, rice breeders in China often select progenies with “tolerance to high N” in the breeding nursery with high N application. As a result, the most recently released cultivars and hybrid combinations will not lodge even at a very high N rate ( Peng et al. , 2002 ). Research to improve the yield potential of cereal grains in low nutrient environments has been sporadic, with mixed results until a recent concerted effort showed that it is possible to improve the yields of wheat and maize in low input environments ( Bänziger and Cooper, 2001 ; Drinkwater and Snape, 2007). Therefore, there is an urgent need for Chinese breeders to invest more in the capacity to strengthen this strategy.

Traditional breeding methods need to be combined with advanced breeding technologies such as marker-assisted selection (MAS) and genetic modification (GM). This allows for more efficient selection of favourite germplasms across multiple traits and accelerates the breeding cycles. In China, the largest plant biotechnology capacity outside North America is now being built ( Huang et al. , 2002 ). Since 2008, the Chinese government has already rolled out a $3.5 billion research and development (R&D) initiative on GM plants ( Stone, 2008 ). Challenges ahead are: (i) to identify the candidate genes and traits valuable for breeding; (ii) incorporate these into elite cultivars and to evaluate their performance under real agricultural field conditions ( Zhang, 2007 ); and (iii) adopt new approaches for generating GM crops to reduce the constraints on regulatory approvals and increase consumer acceptance.

Global food production now faces greater challenges than ever before. There is no simple solution to delivering increased crop productivity while improving resource use efficiency and protecting environmental quality. In this review, the focus has been on science and technology, but a broad range of options including social and economic factors such as technology extension and access to technologies by farmers also needs to be pursued. The path from the application of existing technologies to the delivery of improved soil–crop systems management and improved crops must be explored step by step.

Above all, future work will require a mult-disciplinary approach that involves not just soil scientists, agronomists, and farmers, but also ecologists, policy-makers, and social scientists. Our strong view is that governments of the world must allocate more funds to both fundamental plant science and applied crop research and, despite substantial current spending, China is no exception to this. However, global co-operation is needed to avoid duplication of effort and low efficiency and to ensure faster progress.


soil organic matter

North China Plain

water use efficiency

recovery efficiency of N

the partial factor productivity

integrated soil–crop systems management

non-governmental organizations

net primary productivity

marker-assisted selection

genetic modification

We thank the National Basic Research Program of China (973 Program: 2009CB118608), the Special Fund for the Agriculture Profession (201103003), the Innovative Group Grant of the National Science Foundation of China (30821003), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41171195), the Research Councils UK Science Bridge programme, and the EU DROPS programme, for financial support.

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Research Article

Climate smart agriculture and global food-crop production

Roles Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, Investigation, Methodology, Supervision, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

* E-mail: [email protected]

Affiliation Environment and Production Technology Division, International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC, United States of America

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Roles Data curation, Formal analysis, Methodology, Validation, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

Roles Data curation, Formal analysis, Writing – original draft

Affiliation Energy Systems Division, Argonne National Laboratories, Lemont, IL, United States of America

Roles Data curation, Validation

Roles Data curation

  • Alessandro De Pinto, 
  • Nicola Cenacchi, 
  • Ho-Young Kwon, 
  • Jawoo Koo, 
  • Shahnila Dunston


  • Published: April 29, 2020
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Fig 1

Most business-as-usual scenarios for farming under changing climate regimes project that the agriculture sector will be significantly impacted from increased temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns. Perhaps ironically, agricultural production contributes substantially to the problem with yearly greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of about 11% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions, not including land use change. It is partly because of this tension that Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) has attracted interest given its promise to increase agricultural productivity under a changing climate while reducing emissions. Considerable resources have been mobilized to promote CSA globally even though the potential effects of its widespread adoption have not yet been studied. Here we show that a subset of agronomic practices that are often included under the rubric of CSA can contribute to increasing agricultural production under unfavorable climate regimes while contributing to the reduction of GHG. However, for CSA to make a significant impact important investments and coordination are required and its principles must be implemented widely across the entire sector.

Citation: De Pinto A, Cenacchi N, Kwon H-Y, Koo J, Dunston S (2020) Climate smart agriculture and global food-crop production. PLoS ONE 15(4): e0231764.

Editor: Paolo Agnolucci, University College London, UNITED KINGDOM

Received: September 11, 2019; Accepted: March 31, 2020; Published: April 29, 2020

Copyright: © 2020 De Pinto et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Data Availability: The data used for this analysis are available for download at .

Funding: The authors acknowledge the generous support of the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) funded by CGIAR Fund Donors and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security, which is carried out with support from CGIAR Fund Donors and through bilateral funding agreements.

Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

1 Introduction

Uncertainty in projections makes it difficult to determine the precise impact of climate change on future agricultural productivity, but studies have consistently found that under most scenarios significant negative effects should be expected worldwide [ 1 – 6 ] and especially in economically underdeveloped regions [ 7 – 9 ]. Importantly, agricultural production is not only affected by climate change but contributes substantially to the problem with yearly greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that range from 5.0 to 5.8 Gt CO 2 e or about 11% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions [ 10 ]. Combined with forestry and other land uses, anthropogenic land activities contribute about a quarter of annual GHG emissions, which is the equivalent of 10 to 12 Gt CO 2 e per year [ 10 ].

Recent developments in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations (i.e. the Paris Agreement in 2015 and the Koronivia joint work on agriculture [ 11 , 12 ]) and the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report [ 13 ] have reinvigorated calls for incentives to reduce GHG emissions, including the pricing of carbon and the levy of a carbon tax. However, the latest analyses on the subject [ 14 , 15 ] indicate that a tax on GHG emissions may lead to significant tradeoffs between emissions abatement and food security.

It is in this environment that the concept of Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) has become increasingly relevant. CSA proposes a framework that supports decision-making in the agriculture sector by considering three foundational outcomes and by fully accounting for the trade-offs and synergies among them. It is comprised of agricultural systems that contribute to sustainable and equitable increases in agricultural productivity and incomes; greater adaptation and resilience to climate change of food systems from the farm- to the national-level; and reduction, or removal, of greenhouse gas emissions, where possible [ 16 ].

Many operational aspects of CSA are still under investigation as local contexts determine the enabling environment as well as the trade-offs and synergies between productivity, adaptation, and mitigation [ 17 , 18 ]. Farmers must identify what can be considered climate-smart given their biophysical, agricultural, and socio-economic context. As a consequence, the use of the CSA approach is knowledge-intensive and can require considerable institutional support [ 19 , 20 ]. Because of these difficulties, Chandra at al [ 21 ] note that, at this time, CSA is “a popular scholarly solution” experiencing difficulties in translating into smallholder farmer and civil society actions as well as new policy directions. Taylor [ 22 ] illustrates how the failure to incorporate issues related to social justice make the acceptance and implementation of CSA difficult in many communities. The frequent result is that, even when farmers, agrarian organizations, large scale farmers, and policy maker have embraced the concept of CSA, they struggle with the implementation and tend to look for simple protocols to follow.

Despite these unsettled issues, a substantial amount of resources have been mobilized to promote and implement CSA at a scale sufficient to have a global impact [ 23 ]. Even though CSA is more than a set of agricultural practices, it does include some specific technologies and agronomic tools, and these are the focus of this study. Our goal is to provide a first set of boundaries for the global effects of CSA used in food-crop production with a particular attention to its potential to reduce GHG emissions without jeopardizing food security. For this, we focus on some aspects of food-crop production that can be modelled globally with a reasonable level of accuracy given the latest developments in modeling capabilities [ 9 , 24 – 26 ].

Our analysis looks at four major categories of agricultural practices: no-till, integrated soil fertility management, nitrogen use efficiency and alternate wetting and dry. They have been shown to have positive impacts on yields and GHG mitigation across a wide range of conditions, but they all require specific modifications and adjustments on the ground. As a consequence, the modelling work presented here is a stylized representation of a range of many technologies and practices that would be identified using the CSA approach.

Notwithstanding these limitations, the results of our analysis clearly indicate that CSA practices have the potential to increase food production under unfavorable climate regimes and to improve the food security conditions of millions of people while reducing GHG emissions. However, results also indicate that for CSA to make a sufficiently large impact on global GHG emissions, it must be implemented widely across the entire sector and requires a significant amount of support and coordination. Our findings are also suggestive of broader benefits related to the resilience of the production system, to a reduced pressure for expanding cropland area and to reduced soil fertility depletion. While encouraging, these results are the product of the method and of the modeling assumptions used in the analysis and they must be evaluated and refined by additional global and regional analyses.

We performed an ex-ante analysis of the long-term effects on global food security and GHG emissions of adopting of a set of CSA technologies and practices to grow three widely grown crops: maize ( Zea mays ), wheat ( Triticum aestivum ), and rice ( Oryza sativa ). These three crops represent about 41% of the global harvested area and approximately 64% of the estimated 2–3 Gt CO 2 e per year emitted by crop production globally [ 27 ]. The effects of CSA practices on production, food security, and GHG emissions were assessed via comparison with the outcomes of a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario in which farmers retain the current practices during the period 2010–2050.

All scenarios, BAU and alternatives, were created using the IMPACT system of models [ 26 , 28 ] which links crop and climate models to the core economic model in which agricultural production is represented across 320 sub-national regions called “food production units” (FPUs, see Supplementary Discussion S1 in S1 File ). Because of the linkages among these models, IMPACT’s outputs reflect the interactions between biophysical, economic and population trends, the combination of which represents the functioning of the global food market. A stylized representation of the modeling steps and of the information flow is provided in Fig 1 . The process represented in the figure is used to generate each one of the scenarios described in the sections below.


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Source: Authors.

2.1 Simulation of production, prices and food security—the core of the modeling system

To simulate the effects of CSA adoption on yields, production, harvested areas, world commodity prices and indicators of food security, we linked the spatially-disaggregated data of three models: the Spatial Production Allocation Model (SPAM) [ 29 ], the Decision Support System for Agrotechnology Transfer (DSSAT) [ 30 ], and the International Model for Policy Analysis of Agricultural Commodities and Trade (IMPACT v3.3) [ 28 ] (Supplementary Discussion S1 and Supplementary Fig 1 in S1 File ).

The SPAM model was used to identify the location of crop production on a global grid in which each grid-cell is of size 30 arc minutes (a square of approximately 56 km by 56 km at the equator). For each grid-cell, SPAM provides a database cataloging the dominant crops, representative cultivars, management practices, and the inputs used. Data about climate, irrigation type, and soil properties were geo-linked to each SPAM grid-cell and were essential to run crop model simulations at the grid-cell level. The DSSAT crop model was used to simulate crop yields, with current and or with CSA practices, as a function of the interaction between biophysical elements of the crop systems (e.g. soil, weather, and crop) and management practices (e.g., tillage, nutrient application, and water availability). After the completion of a calibration step (Supplementary Discussion S2 with Supplementary Table 2 and Supplementary Figs 2 and 3 in S1 File ), the yield responses were aggregated to evaluate agriculture production across IMPACT’s FPUs. IMPACT utilizes the yield responses to agricultural practices as shifters for the crop-specific supply curves and for the yield’s growth rates [ 1 , 9 , 28 , 31 ]. Starting from these changes in growth rates, the systems of equations at the core of the model endogenously determine crop areas, agricultural production, commodity prices and food availability. In turn, taking into consideration population and income growth, changes in food availability translate into changes in the regional availability of kilocalories [ 28 ]. In IMPACT, the share of people at risk of hunger (i.e. suffering from undernourishment) is calculated based on an empirical correlation between the share of undernourished people within the population and the relative availability of food. The calculation is adapted from Fischer et al. [ 28 , 32 ]. The share of undernourished children under the age of five is based on the calculation of the average calorie availability per capita per day, women’s access to secondary education, the ratio of female to male life expectancy at birth, and health and sanitation conditions [ 28 , 33 ]. It is an estimate of undernourishment in terms of weight for age.

2.2 Implementation of CSA technologies in DSSAT

The CSA scenarios simulate the use of four practices that are recurrently identified in the literature for their potential to deliver across the objectives of CSA and to be adopted widely [ 18 , 34 ]. There are several other practices and technologies that are proposed for CSA, the ones selected are among those that can be modeled with higher accuracy. The technologies considered for maize and wheat are no-till and integrated soil fertility management, while those for rice are alternate wetting and drying and nitrogen use efficiency. These practices are already utilized and widely tested due to their promising positive effects on yields, their higher resource use efficiency (e.g., water and nutrients) and their overall effects on GHG emissions ( Table 1 and Supplementary Discussion S3 for a description of the technologies; Supplementary Discussion S4 and Supplementary Table S3 for modeling details and an assessment of our simulation results in S1 File ).


In order to simulate no-till, the default setting for conventional tillage in DSSAT was removed and a seed planting stick and a deep fertilizer injection were used as planting and fertilizer application methods to minimize soil disturbance (more details in Supplementary Discussion 3 in S1 File ). Six countries (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Paraguay, and Uruguay) where no-till has already been widely adopted were excluded from the simulations [ 51 , 52 ] because we assume that the potential for expansion in these six countries is low. In other places, especially North America where no till is already present but not widely adopted, we assume that it is not utilized and therefore our analysis may overestimate the impacts of using this practice.

Integrated soil fertility management was implemented by simulating the application of organic amendment, in addition to the inorganic fertilizer applications already defined in the BAU scenario. The site-specific organic manure application quantity was based on Potter et al. (2010; ) [ 53 ] and was used monthly during the fallow period (after harvesting–before planting). The rate of inorganic fertilizer application is the same as in the BAU scenario; however, the application scheduling is optimized based on the growth stage of each crop to minimize nitrogen stress during flowering and grain filling.

For rice production, enhanced nitrogen use efficiency and alternate wetting and drying (AWD) were simulated. Nitrogen use efficiency was simulated by focusing on enhanced plant uptake of nitrogen fertilizer under both rainfed and irrigated conditions. This was done by turning on in DSSAT the option for nitrogen fertilizer application based on deep placement of urea supergranules at a depth of 10 cm beneath the surface soil. Simulation of AWD was only applied to irrigated rice and was based on a recent study by the International Fund for Agricultural Development-IFPRI Partnership Program that identified alternative agricultural mitigation options for rice production using the DeNitrification-DeComposition model [DNDC; 54 ]. We employed the same modeling approach of DNDC, which assumes that: i) rice paddy is initially flooded to 10 cm, ii) water level is reduced at rate of -0.5 cm/day to -5cm, and iii) then re-flooded at rate of 0.5 cm/day till to 10 cm.

2.3 Calculation of GHG emissions

DSSAT was used to calculate per-hectare GHG emissions which were then multiplied by the harvested areas projected by the IMPACT model to compute total GHG emissions. Specifically, temporal changes in soil carbon stock were simulated in the CENTURY soil organic matter (SOM) module embedded into DSSAT [ 55 ]. Direct N 2 O emissions were simulated by modifying DSSAT’s source codes to model denitrification processes. The modifications ensure that our estimates of direct N 2 O emissions are comparable to those calculated using the 2006 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emission factors [ 56 ], where 1% of N additions from mineral fertilizers, from organic amendments and from crop residues, 1% of N mineralized from soil organic matter, and ~0.7% of N from residue inputs are converted into N 2 O emissions.

For flooded rice soils, we used the IPCC default emission factor of 0.3% of applied N. Methane (CH 4 ) emissions were calculated by combining DSSAT-simulated rice biomass with IPCC Tier 1 method’s emission coefficients proposed by Yan et al. 2009 [ 57 ]. Parameters of the Tier 1 method include baseline emission factor (1.3), scaling factors for continuous flooding (1) and multiple drainage (0.52), simulating effect of rice straw (0.59), and conversion factor of farmyard manure (0.14). These were combined with the simulated outputs of rice yields and straws, days in growing season, soil organic carbon content, and the input data of manure application rate. Finally, all GHG emissions were converted into tons of CO 2 e using global warming potential for 100-yr time horizon of each GHG (Supplementary Table S4 in S1 File ).

2.4 Scenarios

2.4.1 business as usual scenario..

BAU scenario reflects the use of current practices and technologies throughout the 2010–2050 period and assumes that agriculture is developing under climate change conditions. BAU and all the alternative scenarios use the population and income growth assumptions that underly the middle of the road Shared Socioeconomic Pathway 2 (SSP2; [ 37 , 38 ]) from the IPCC Assessment Report 5 (AR5; [ 15 , 24 , 58 ]). Under the SSP2 narrative, global population will reach over 9 billion people by 2050 at an average annual growth rate of 0.6% and per capita GDP grows at just below 2% per year. The climate models used in both DSSAT and IMPACT under a Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 (RCP 8.5; [ 59 ]) represent two possible future states of the climate. One, the GFDL-ESM2M (GFDL; [ 60 ]), is drier and cooler than the other, the HadGEM2-ES (HadGEM; [ 61 ]) (Supplementary Figs 4 and 5 and Supplementary Table S5 in S1 File ). Given the high uncertainty around the overall effects of carbon fertilization on crop productivity [ 62 , 63 ] we cannot make conclusive statements about how increased concentrations of CO 2 in the atmosphere will impact production (see a detailed treatment of the issue in Supplementary Discussion S5 in S1 File ). Therefore, our modeling approach assumes no additional effects on yields from atmospheric carbon.

2.4.2 Climate smart agriculture scenarios.

These scenarios were constructed by assuming that farmers who are currently using a particular set of practices to grow maize, wheat, and rice are offered a portfolio of alternatives from which to choose (i.e. the four CSA practices considered). We first explored two scenarios with the objective to shed light on the largest possible effects of adopting CSA practices. The scenarios are based on two basic adoption rules implemented at the grid-cell level. The first (Rule 1) requires that CSA practices generate a yield gain compared to BAU in order to be adopted. The second (Rule 2) requires that an alternative practice generates higher yields and a decrease in emission intensity (i.e. the quantity of CO 2 e per unit of product). If none of the alternatives increases yields, it is assumed that farmers retain their current practices. Given our objective, both scenarios assume that when a CSA practice is chosen all farmers in a given area adopt it beginning from the first year (i.e. 100% of the area in which Rule 1 or Rule 2 are satisfied it is assumed to adopt the CSA practices). Admittedly, the chosen adoption rules overestimate the role that yield gains play in farmers’ decisions. We do recognize that there are other benefits that might motivate adoption. However, at this time there are no widely applied financial mechanisms that disincentivize the use of current agricultural practices or that promote CSA [ 64 ]. Furthermore, non-monetary benefits vary greatly with local conditions and with farmers’ idiosyncrasies which cannot be represented in a global modeling exercise. More importantly, it is unlikely that countries would support the wide uptake of practices that reduce yields, given the importance that increased productivity holds for food security. We therefore think that, albeit with limitations, the assumption that adoption requires a yield increase is a pragmatic way to move forward in global analysis such as the one we are undertaking.

We did however test the possible effects of production costs and other barriers to adoption through two additional scenarios. It is well known that production costs and other factors (e.g. farmers’ access to markets and to credit, the characteristics of a particular technology, the quality of extension services, attitudes towards risk and risk exposure) affect the adoption of new practices and technologies [ 65 – 68 ]. Based on these notions, a third scenario was implemented which uses adoption Rule 1 together with the adoption rates used by Rosegrant et al. [ 9 ]. These implicitly include multiple costs related to adoption and were obtained through surveys and interviews with experts. These rates are more realistic than the 100% adoption assumed in the previous scenarios (Supplementary Discussion S6 with Supplementary Table S6 in S1 File ).

The issue of costs of production is particularly important for AWD, a practice that could significantly reduce the use of water without reducing rice yields (see Table 1 ). This means that AWD could be adopted even though there is a reduction in yields. Therefore, the fourth and last simulated scenario uses Rule 2 but expands adoption by including the potential reduction of production costs associated with implementing AWD. A review of the literature reveals that irrigation costs represent from 3 to 36% of production costs [ 56 , 57 , 69 ] and AWD is reported to reduce irrigation cost up to 30% [ 70 , 58 ]. Based on these estimates we calculate that as long as yields decrease less than 9%, AWD is still be more profitable, and therefore preferable, to the current practices (Supplementary Discussion S7 in S1 File ).

The performance of CSA practices depends on tailoring their implementation to the specific local conditions, but the capacity and knowledge to do so varies greatly from farmer to farmer. Therefore, for all scenarios we simulated instances in which farmers perform a poor, average, and optimal tailoring of the technology to their local biophysical circumstances (represented in the model by weather and soil characteristics). To do this, we exploited the fact that each IMPACT FPU contains multiple 30 arc minutes grid-cells. We considered the yield gain distribution in each FPU and used the average of the lower quartile, the average of the distribution, and the average of the upper quartile to represent a poor, average, and optimal tailoring of CSA.

Thus, our evaluation of the effects of widespread adoption of CSA practices is based on a total of 26 simulations ( Table 2 ). Given the amount of output generated, for each scenario we report a single value which is the average of the GFDL and HadGEM results followed in parenthesis by the range of the results (lowest–highest value) obtained using the different climate models and levels of tailoring. The same information is indicated in the whisker bar in the figures.


3.1 Prices and production

Projections for the BAU scenario indicate that global production of maize, wheat, and rice in 2050 will increase by 47% (36–58%), 42% (40–44%), and 19% (18–20%) respectively, compared to 2010. Prices are projected to increase by 80% (56–103%), 35% (24–46%), and 52% (44–60%) respectively. Therefore, despite the impact of climate change, production of these three main cereals is projected to increase. After economic growth and changing incomes and diets are considered, by 2050 according to BAU projections there will be 47 million (45–48) fewer undernourished children and 385 million (361–410) fewer people at risk of hunger.

We first report in detail the results for the CSA adoption scenarios based on Rules 1 and 2. The sensitivity of these scenarios to barriers to adoption and to costs of production is reported later in the paper. The results show that CSA practices are adopted on a total of approximately 372 million hectares when adoption is based exclusively on yield increase (Rule 1) and on 241 million hectares when adoption is dependent on reduction in emission intensity and increase in yields (Rule 2) (Supplementary Discussion S8 with Supplementary Table S7 in S1 File ). Compared to BAU, by 2050 CSA practices are estimated to increase global production of maize by an additional 4% (1–9%) with Rule 1 and 3% (1–5%) with Rule 2; wheat production is also estimated to increase by about 4% (1–9%) with Rule 1, and 3% (0.4–8%) with Rule 2. CSA practices appear to have the largest effect on rice, for which production is projected to increase by about 9% with both rules (4–16% with Rule 1 and 4–15% with Rule 2) ( Fig 2 ).


Columns indicate the average tailoring of CSA practices; whisker bars identify results for the poor and optimal tailoring. Source: Authors. BAU = business as usual scenario.

We should note that not all countries experience an increase in production. The wide-scale adoption of CSA practices induces a reorganization of global production because of differences in land suitability. As a result, in some countries the reduction in crop harvested area offsets the gains in yields (Supplementary Table S8 in S1 File ). Nevertheless, overall the changes in production are sufficient to have a sizable impact on world prices (see description of endogenous effects in Supplementary Discussion S9 in S1 File ). Prices are still projected to increase but compared to BAU their growth is reduced by 8% (3–17%) for maize, by 11% (3–25%) for wheat, and by 27% (13–42%) for rice with Rule 1, and by 6% (2–11%) for maize, 8% (2–20%) for wheat and 26% (14–40%) for rice with Rule 2 (Supplementary Table S9 in S1 File ). As a result, the population at risk of hunger decreases more than what is projected by the BAU scenario. The number of people at risk of hunger is reduced by an additional 34 million (10–69 million) by 2050 under Rule 1 and by 29 million (10–59 million) under Rule 2, with the largest improvements in Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Pacific, and South Asia. Similarly, the number of undernourished children decreases by an additional 2 million under both Rules 1 and 2 (a range of 1–5 million with Rule 1 and 1–4 million with Rule 2) with most of the improvements in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia (Supplementary Table S10 with Supplementary Figs 6 and 7 in S1 File ).

3.2 GHG emissions

Global GHG emissions decrease under both adoption scenarios, but there are important distinctions between the two. When farmers’ adoption choices are based only on yield increases (Rule 1), the reduction in GHG emissions is estimated to be equivalent to 44 Mt CO 2 e yr -1 (9–77 Mt CO 2 e yr -1 ). The reduction of emissions is significantly higher with Rule 2, 101 Mt CO 2 e yr -1 (84–124 Mt CO 2 e yr -1 ). This shows that there is a substantial amount of area in which CSA practices can increase yields but do not reduce GHG emissions. The higher levels of emissions abatement come at the cost of production. On average across climate scenarios, under Rule 2 total cumulative production for the three crops is reduced by 21 Mt yr -1 (1 and 53) of fresh matter harvest compared to Rule 1. This is equivalent to 1% (0.1 and 2%) of total yearly global production of maize, wheat and rice.

It is important to note that the effects on emissions vary from country to country and that we find instances in which an increase in emissions occurs in some countries ( Fig 3 and Supplementary Table S11 in S1 File ).


Negative values indicate an abatement compared to BAU and positive values an increase. Source: Authors.

Emissions can increase because of the potentially large changes in countries’ crop harvested areas and yields. Total emissions can increase even when a reduction of emission intensity is achieved if the reduction in emissions per unit of output is offset by increases in yields or in areas (Supplementary Discussion S10 with Supplementary Table S11 in S1 File ).

3.3 Other effects related to emissions

Interestingly, part of the reduction in emissions is due to the effects on soil organic carbon concentration, which is estimated to grow compared to BAU by 0.11 t ha -1 yr -1 (0–0.49 t ha -1 yr -1 ) over the area that adopts the alternative practices based on Rule 1, and by 0.14 t ha -1 yr -1 (0.01–0.53 t ha -1 yr -1 ) based on Rule 2. These changes are beneficial for sustainable production and resilience since higher soil organic carbon concentrations increase soils nutrient availability and soils water retention.

Some potentially important effects on land use must be noted. The combination of higher yields and lower prices reduces producers’ incentives to expand production onto additional land as the demand for wheat and rice can be satisfied with less harvested area (Supplementary Table S12 in S1 File ). Even though global harvested area for maize is projected to expand by 1 million hectares in 2050, on average across Rule 1 and 2 the net effect is a decrease in total harvested areas for the three crops estimated at 10 million hectares (3–27 million hectares) compared to BAU. This result is suggestive of a reduced pressure on forests and other natural areas that might be environmentally significant and rich in carbon. However, the reallocation of harvested area following changes in production and prices causes other crops to take over the land freed by rice and wheat (Supplementary Discussion S11 in S1 File ). Total land allocated to soybeans, vegetables, temperate fruits, sugarcane, and rapeseed is estimated to increase by 2 million hectares in 2050 on average across Rule 1 and 2 (1–4 million hectares) (Supplementary Table 13 in S1 File ). Depending on how they are grown, these crops might have a higher carbon footprint than the crops they replace.

Importantly, simulations show that increases in production of grains reduces the price of livestock feed and increases the number of animals that can be supported globally. The stronger the effect on prices, the greater the increase in the global cattle herd. As a result, emissions from cattle may increase by 5.4 Mt CO 2 e yr -1 (1.2–13.1 Mt CO 2 e yr -1 ) by 2050 and partially offset the reductions in emissions discussed earlier (Supplementary Discussion S12 and Supplementary Table S14 in S1 File ).

3.4 Adaptation and resilience

The effects on production, prices, soil, and land use suggest that CSA practices are a form of adaptation to new climate conditions and make crop-production more resilient. A comparison with a scenario in which the effects of climate change on future crop production are removed (a No Climate Change scenario. See Supplementary Discussion S13 and Supplementary Fig 8 in S1 File ) show that the production gains obtained from CSA practices can offset the negative impacts of climate change on maize and rice production and slow down consequent increases in prices. CSA practices are also successful in reducing the price of wheat which, despite an increase in production, is projected to increase in the BAU scenario. It is however difficult to draw broader conclusions about resilience, as this would require a more specific analysis of the differential effects across multiple social contexts, at different geographical scales, and for different social groups [ 71 , 72 ].

3.5 Effects of adoption rates and production costs

Results for the third scenario, which uses lower adoption rates, and the fourth, which includes AWD production costs, are reported in Fig 4 along with the results from Rules 1 and 2. To provide a comprehensive review of all the simulated scenarios, we consider the cumulative fresh weight harvest for the three crops. The results in Fig 4 focus on production and emissions. Similar results for harvested area are presented in Supplementary Table S15 in S1 File .


Columns indicate the average tailoring of CSA practices; whisker bars identify results for the poor and optimal tailoring Source: Authors.

As expected, social and cost barriers—heuristically included in the simulations by reducing the rate of adoption of CSA practices as in Rosegrant et al [ 9 ]—significantly affect the results with an overall reduction in benefits. Compared to BAU, yearly production for the three crops increases on average by 60 Mt (22–122 M tons) and GHG yearly emissions are reduced on average by 13 Mt CO 2 e (-2–31 Mt CO 2 e, where the negative number indicates an increase in emissions). Therefore, the reduced adoption lowers the crop production gains observed using Rule 1 by about 40% and reduces the effects on emissions by two thirds or more.

When the reduction in production costs for AWD is accounted for, AWD is adopted on some additional 0.8 million hectares leading to the highest achieved emission reduction. Yearly production is essentially unaffected but yearly abatement reaches on average 105 Mt CO 2 e yr -1 (90–134 Mt CO 2 e yr -1 ).

4 Discussion

The largest positive impacts on production and food security as well as the highest levels in GHG emissions abatement, should be interpreted as aspirational targets and viewed as an upper bound of the possible effects of adopting the CSA practices considered across maize, wheat and rice. These results are predicated on high levels of uptake by farmers and their capacity to tailor the implementation of CSA practices to local conditions. The scenario that simulates lower and more realistic adoption rates and the scenarios that represent a lower proficiency at using the practices, show rapidly diminishing benefits. This stresses the importance of major new investments to overcome long-standing problems such as underperforming extension services, farmers’ lack of credit, risk management and timely information about markets. These barriers are known to prevent the adoption of more productive, more resilient and sustainable agricultural systems.

Even though the focus of CSA is not on mitigation benefits, the pressure on the agriculture sector to reduce GHG emissions is likely to increase as other sectors reduce their share of global emissions. The performance of agricultural practices in terms of their abatement potential is therefore important. According to our assessment, the total maximum abatement obtainable (134 Mt CO 2 e yr -1 ) is about 17% of what is considered the economically achievable mitigation from managing cropland, which is 0.77 Gt CO 2 e yr -1 [ 73 ]. Also, after the indirect effects of cattle emissions are accounted for (approximately 4 Mt CO 2 e yr -1 ), the maximum abatement obtainable is 13% of the 1 Gt CO 2 e yr -1 abatement goal for the agriculture sector to remain below the 2°C global warming [ 74 ]. If one considers that the GHG emissions from the three crops analyzed is in the range of 1.28–1.92 CO 2 e yr -1 [ 25 ], our results point to a 7–10% reduction at best of those emissions. Given these limited abatement levels, the large scale adoption of alternative production systems (e.g. silvopastoral systems, agroforestry practices, precision agriculture) should be considered, and additional opportunities for abatement ought to be found elsewhere along the value chains [ 75 ].

Importantly, results indicate that recent concerns expressed in the literature regarding the negative effects of carbon tax on food security might be misplaced. In actuality, carbon pricing could help internalizing the external costs of GHG emission and steer the agriculture sector towards more carbon-efficient methods of production and distribution. Clearly, one can always impose a sufficiently high carbon tax with detrimental effects on the food security of a significant share of the population. However, our results for population at risk of hunger show that alternative practices and technologies, of which only a sample is explored in this study, can limit these effects if not completely offset them. In our analysis we did not explicitly explore the effects of policies that promote a reduction of GHG emissions. However, the results obtained using adoption Rule 2 show that as the emphasis shifts from yield gains to reducing emission intensity, emission abatement increases albeit at the cost of agricultural output. Resolving the tradeoff between emissions reduction and production in an economically efficient manner depends not only on carbon pricing or emission-reduction incentives but also on a proper pricing of the factors of production. An appropriate pricing of inputs like water and nitrogen fertilizers would promote the adoption of water-saving practices such as AWD with no significant reduction of productivity, and the adoption of practices that increase nitrogen use efficiency, with a consequent reduction in emissions and an increase in productivity.

Results also show the importance of understanding how changes caused by the widespread adoption of CSA practices may play on a global scale. The indirect effects arising from the reorganization of global production can lead to larger agricultural areas being allocated to other crops, and to an expansion in the global livestock herd due to cheaper feedstock prices. These effects can be large enough to limit the emission abatement effectiveness of CSA practices. In addition, the heterogeneous changes in countries’ GHG emissions, even in the presence of a global positive outcome, shows the importance of global coordination. Such coordination should also consider the interaction between agricultural land and carbon-rich environments such as forests and peatlands to avoid emission leakage [ 76 , 77 ].

Beyond the specifics of CSA, our results are strongly suggestive that using alternative practices the agriculture sector can increase its output and reduce its carbon footprint under future climate scenarios. However, many are the assumptions that underly our work and much more research must be undertaken to evaluate the global effects of changes in food production systems. Simulating alternative agricultural futures requires a model representation of the main structural drivers of demand and supply of food products and this requires significant assumptions about producers’ and consumers’ behavior. Scenario analyses based on model simulations, of which this study is an example, are not a prediction of the future. They are a representation of possible alternative futures given our current knowledge and assumptions about trends in climate, technology, population, income and other drivers, and about how they may interact in an economic system. Scenarios also rely heavily on existing global datasets, which come with many limitations. One way to test the robustness of the scenarios produced by models that do not generate confidence intervals or goodness-of-fit metrics, like the one we used, is to undertake a sensitivity analysis for some of the key variables. We have done this for climate, adoption levels, and yield performance but many more could be explored. Results from the sensitivity analysis point to the qualitative robustness of some of the findings (e.g. agriculture can withstand the negative impact of climate change using alternative practices, sustainable increase in production while reducing the carbon food print is possible), others indicate where additional research is necessary (e.g. investigate the multiple pathways that link agricultural output with the food security status of vulnerable people, move beyond the emphasis on yield gains and model the effects of crop rotations). Other results reveal the limits of the modeling environment that was used. A perfect example of this are our findings about land use change. The overall effects of higher yields and lower prices is to reduce the need for additional harvested area to fulfill the increasing demands for maize, wheat and rice. This suggests a reduced pressure to expand cropland and potential land-sparing effects. However, IMPACT does not model explicitly the competing demands of all land uses. It only considers cropland area and its agricultural output. While the idea that agricultural intensification reduces agricultural land’s encroachment into other natural areas is not new, it was famously put forward by Borlaug [ 78 ], whether this happens in reality is the subject of some controversy [ 79 – 81 ] and our model cannot directly resolve these questions. More research in this issue is therefore necessary.

One way to verify and test the validity of these scenarios is also to use alternative models after proper calibration [ 82 ] and compare results across them. Although this requires considerable resources, these types of comparisons have been done to assess global issues related to climate change such as agricultural production under future climate regimes [ 82 ], agricultural production and mitigation [ 83 ], and future nutritional challenges [ 84 ]. It would be advisable that a similar exercise is undertaken to explore the merits and benefits of alternative production systems like the one proposed by CSA.

5 Conclusion

Much has been written about CSA and its potential benefits but most of the existing analyses are based on local experiences and no study has so far attempted to quantify these benefits on a global scale. Our results show that widespread adoption of CSA practices can increase production and lower world prices of wheat, maize, and rice under future unfavorable climatic conditions. The reduction in prices is projected to make food products more accessible to millions of people thereby lowering the number of people at risk of hunger and that of undernourished children. These gains can be obtained while improving soil fertility and with a reduction in GHG emissions. Taken all together, results suggest that CSA practice can deliver benefits across its three foundational pillars on a planetary scale.

However, what clearly transpires from our results is that to make a significant impact, the principles of CSA must be applied widely across production systems and for this to occur significant investments must be made. Ideally, as others have suggested [ 85 ], the same or similar principles should be applied across the whole food system (i.e. trade, stocks, nutrition and social policies). It is also clear that the wide-ranging and multidimensional effects, sometime unintended or unforeseen, must be understood and managed. CSA with its multi-objective approach may provide a useful framework for decision-making ranging from the farm to the policy level.

Supporting information


We would like to thank Jennifer Lieberman, Daniel Mason-D'Croz, Keith Wiebe, and Channing Arndt for their help and useful comments. The authors take sole responsibility for the opinions expressed within this article.

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  • Published: 12 October 2020

A scoping review of adoption of climate-resilient crops by small-scale producers in low- and middle-income countries

  • Maricelis Acevedo   ORCID: 1 ,
  • Kevin Pixley   ORCID: 2   na1 ,
  • Nkulumo Zinyengere 3   na1 ,
  • Sisi Meng 4 ,
  • Hale Tufan   ORCID: 1 ,
  • Karen Cichy 5 ,
  • Livia Bizikova 6 ,
  • Krista Isaacs   ORCID: 7 ,
  • Kate Ghezzi-Kopel   ORCID: 1 &
  • Jaron Porciello   ORCID: 1  

Nature Plants volume  6 ,  pages 1231–1241 ( 2020 ) Cite this article

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  • Agriculture
  • Plant breeding
  • Plant sciences

Climate-resilient crops and crop varieties have been recommended as a way for farmers to cope with or adapt to climate change, but despite the apparent benefits, rates of adoption by smallholder farmers are highly variable. Here we present a scoping review, using PRISMA-P (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic review and Meta-Analysis Protocols), examining the conditions that have led to the adoption of climate-resilient crops over the past 30 years in lower- and middle-income countries. The descriptive analysis performed on 202 papers shows that small-scale producers adopted climate-resilient crops and varieties to cope with abiotic stresses such as drought, heat, flooding and salinity. The most prevalent trait in our dataset was drought tolerance, followed by water-use efficiency. Our analysis found that the most important determinants of adoption of climate-resilient crops were the availability and effectiveness of extension services and outreach, followed by education levels of heads of households, farmers’ access to inputs—especially seeds and fertilizers—and socio-economic status of farming families. About 53% of studies reported that social differences such as sex, age, marital status and ethnicity affected the adoption of varieties or crops as climate change-adaptation strategies. On the basis of the collected evidence, this study presents a series of pathways and interventions that could contribute to higher adoption rates of climate-resilient crops and reduce dis-adoption.

Agriculture and food production are highly vulnerable to climate change. Extreme weather events such as droughts, heat waves and flooding have far-reaching implications for food security and poverty reduction, especially in rural communities with high populations of small-scale producers who are highly dependent on rain-fed agriculture for their livelihoods and food. Climate change is expected to reduce yields of staple crops by up to 30% due to lower productivity and crop failure 1 . Moreover, the projected global population growth and changes in diets toward higher demand for meat and dairy products in developing economies will stretch natural resources even further, increasing demands on food production and food insecurity 2 . To cope with climate change, farmers need to modify production and farm management practices, such as adjusting planting time, supplementing irrigation (when possible), intercropping, adopting conservation agriculture, accessing short- and long-term crop and seed storage infrastructure, and changing crops or planting more climate-resilient crop varieties.

This scoping review examines the conditions that have led to the adoption of climate-resilient crops over the past 30 yr in lower- and middle-income countries. For all countries, but especially those that rely on domestic agriculture production for food security, one of the most critical and proactive measures that can be taken to cope with food insecurity caused by unpredictable weather patterns is for farmers to adopt climate-resilient crops. Climate-resilient crops and crop varieties have enhanced tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses 3 (Box 1 ). They are intended to maintain or increase crop yields under stress conditions and thereby provide a means of adapting to diminishing crop yields in the face of droughts, higher average temperatures and other climatic conditions 4 . Adoption of climate-resilient crops, such as early-maturing cereal crop varieties, heat-tolerant varieties, drought-tolerant legumes or tuber crops, crops or varieties with enhanced salinity tolerance, or rice with submergence tolerance, can help farmers to better cope with climate shocks. Climate-resilient crops and crop varieties increase farmers’ resilience to climate change, but despite their benefits, adoption rates by small-scale producers are not as high as expected in some cropping systems 4 , 5 , 6 . In this study, we focus on scoping (reviewing and synthesizing) the published evidence on the adoption of climate-resilient crops and crop varieties from climate-vulnerable countries and countries that have experienced climate-related impacts as determined by 45 indicators established by the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative.

Overall, we find that the most important determinants of adoption of climate-resilient crops are the availability and effectiveness of extension services and outreach, education level of heads of households, including some awareness of climate change and adaptation measures, and farmers’ access to inputs, especially seeds and fertilizers. On the basis of the collected evidence, this scoping review presents a series of pathways and interventions that can contribute to higher adoption rates of climate-resilient crops and reduce dis-adoption (Box 2 ).

Box 1 Definitions and assumptions

Small-scale food producers. Definitions of small-scale food producers in the literature are mostly based on four criteria: land size, labour input (especially of family members), market orientation and economic size 2 . Land size is the most commonly used criterion. The clear majority of definitions of small-scale food producers are based on the acreage of the farm and/or a headcount of the livestock raised. Sometimes an arbitrary size is created (commonly 2 hectares or less), but otherwise a relative measure is used, which considers the average size of landholdings in the country, as well as a poverty measure (farms that generate 40% or less of the median income). A second important criterion of small-scale producer is the source of the labour used on the farm (whether it is provided by the household that runs the farm or workers who are paid a wage). A third criterion is the extent to which the farm output is sold to market rather than consumed by the farm household or bartered with neighbours (some authors caution that this is also contextual and many small-scale producers are engaged in commercial markets). A fourth criterion is economic size (the value of the farm’s production) 56 .

Climate-vulnerable countries are countries that are considered to be vulnerable to climate change. The ND-GAIN index presents a list of countries ranked by vulnerability to climate change and readiness to respond ( ).

Climate resiliency is the capacity for a socio-ecological system to absorb stresses and maintain function in the face of external stresses imposed on it by climate change, and adapt, reorganize and evolve into more desirable configurations that improve the sustainability of the system, leaving it better prepared for future climate change impacts.

Climate change adaptation includes planned or autonomous actions that seek to lower the risks posed by climatic changes, either by reducing exposure and sensitivity to climate hazards or by reducing vulnerabilities and enhancing capacities to respond to them. Adaptation also includes exploiting any beneficial opportunities presented by changing climates.

Climate-resilient crops are crops and crop varieties that have enhanced tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses. They are intended to maintain or increase crop yields under stress conditions such as drought, flooding (submergence), heat, chilling, freezing and salinity, and thereby provide a means of adapting to diminishing crop yields in the face of droughts, higher and lower than seasonal temperatures, and other climatic conditions 3 , 57 .

Climate-smart agriculture is an approach or set of practices aimed at increasing agricultural productivity and incomes sustainably, while building resilience and adapting to climate change conditions and reducing and/or removing greenhouse gas emissions where possible 6 .

Conservation agriculture is a farming system that promotes minimum soil disturbance (that is, no tillage), maintenance of a permanent soil cover, and diversification of plant species; for instance, through crop rotation 58 .

Adoption is the stage at which technology has been selected and is being used over a sustained period by an individual or an organization. Adoption is more than acceptance; it is inclusion of a product or innovation among the common practices of the adopter.

Gender refers to the social relations between men and women, boys and girls, and how this is socially constructed. Gender roles are dynamic and change over time.

Agricultural extension is a form of outreach that shares research-based knowledge with farmers and communities in order to improve agricultural practices and productivity. The approach to delivering these services varies in terms of farmer participation and engagement. This range includes technology transfer, advisory, experiential and iterative learning, farmer-led extension services (such as farmer field schools), and facilitation, in which farmers define their own problems and develop their own solutions.

Box 2 Summary methods

A double-blind title and abstract screening was performed on 5,650 articles that were identified through a comprehensive search of multiple databases and grey literature sources and then uploaded to the systematic review software Covidence. The full search protocol is described in the Supplementary Information .

The resulting 886 articles were subjected to a second round of full-text screening, and 684 articles that did not meet the inclusion criteria were excluded, leaving 202 articles that were read in full and included in the qualitative synthesis.

We performed data extraction on each of the 202 included studies. A data-extraction template (available in the Supplementary Information ) was developed to document the data, study type and context of each citation and all themes of interest.

The extracted data were qualitatively summarized on the basis of emerging themes and with the aim of providing recommendations to donors and policy makers.

Among the 684 articles that were excluded at the full-text screening phase, 230 were excluded because they did not include an explicit analysis of factors for climate-resilient crop adoption and 204 were excluded because there was no explicit focus on crops, varieties, seed, planting materials or germplasm.

The inclusion criteria for this study were:

The study focus includes population of small-scale food producers, as defined in the protocol

The study was published after 1990 (1990 was the year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) produced its first report on climate change).

The study includes original research (qualitative and quantitative reports) and/or a review of existing research, including grey literature.

An explicit focus or clear relevance on climate change resilience or climate change adaptation, as defined in the protocol.

An explicit focus on crops, varieties, seed, planting materials or germplasm.

The study mentions factors for adoption, as defined in the protocol.

The area of focus of the study includes target populations in lower- and middle-income countries, as defined by the World Bank.

A scoping review aims to explore the key concepts underpinning a research area and the main sources and types of evidence available 7 . Established scoping review methods provide an evidence-based framework for systematically searching and thematically characterizing the extent, range and nature of existing evidence. A PRISMA-P protocol for this scoping review 8 was registered on 4 June 2019 on the Open Science Framework. We performed double-blind title and abstract screening of 5,649 citations, selecting 568 papers for full-text screening using a priori inclusion and exclusion criteria; 202 papers met the inclusion criteria for data extraction. The inclusion and exclusion criteria are available in the protocol (Methods and Supplementary Information ), and the data-extraction procedure and the PRISMA flow diagram of included and excluded studies are presented in the Supplementary Information .

Of the 202 papers included, 89% were published in peer-reviewed journals and 11% were published in the grey literature. Eighty-seven studies used mixed methods, 82 used quantitative methods and 33 studies used qualitative methods.

Evidence of adoption of climate-resilient crops

Of the 29 evaluated potential social and economic factors related to adoption, interventions related to the availability, effectiveness and access to agricultural extension services were the most prominent determinants of the adoption of climate-resilient crops in low- and middle-income countries. Nearly 50% of the studies identified extension services and awareness outreach as important factors for the effective adoption of climate-resilient crops in low- and middle-income countries (Fig. 1 ). The individual figures per characteristic are presented in detailed summary graphs in Extended Data Figs. 1 – 5 . The determinants are plotted in bar charts to provide additional context and visualization. The unit of analysis is per study, and a single study can report on multiple determinants.

figure 1

The inner ring outlines the five broad categories to which the 29 social and economic factors are mapped. The outer ring shows the factors within each broad category that were most frequently mentioned across the included studies. The relative area occupied by categories indicates their relevance. Charts with the full data and frequencies for each category are presented in the Supplementary Information . For illustrative purposes, factors mentioned in less than 20% of studies as determinants of adoption were excluded from this figure.

The principal factors determining adoption of climate-resilient crops or crop varieties were largely consistent across the three regions with robust numbers of publications: sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and East Asia. The most important determinants across these regions were, in order of importance: (1) access to extension services or information about options, (2) education level of head of household, (3) access to needed farm inputs, (4) experience and skills of farmer, (5) social status, and (6) access to climate information (Fig. 2 ). Access to extension services and information about options, and education level of head of household were among the top five determinants for adoption for all three regions. Access to farm inputs was the first and second most important determinants for adoption in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, respectively, but was only sixth most important for East Asia. Experience and skills of farmers were first and third most important determinants for adoption in East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, respectively, and sixth most important in South Asia. Social status was highly important in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, but only moderately important for determining adoption of technologies in East Asia. Although there were few papers and thus limited information for Latin America and Middle East and North Africa regions, the education level of the head of household was cited as the most important determinant for adoption in both regions.

figure 2

a – e , Individual determinants are ranked from highest to lowest number of studies in the regions: East Asia and Pacific ( a ), Latin America and the Caribbean ( b ), Middle East and North Africa ( c ), South Asia ( d ) and sub-Saharan Africa ( e ).

The climate-resilient crops are included in this scoping review on the basis of data found in the included papers (Fig. 3 ). We classified them as cereals (maize, rice, grain (general), wheat, millet, sorghum barley and teff), legumes (soybean, chickpeas, cowpea, common beans, mung beans and groundnut), vegetables and fruits (tomato, eggplant, pepper, cocoa, mango, clover, garlic, mustard, pea, onion, saffron, green grams and cola nut) and roots, tubers and bananas (banana, plantain, yam, sweet potato, cassava and potato). Thirty-three per cent of the studies did not report on a specific crop or variety in their research; of the studies that did report on a specific crop or variety, 67% reported on cereals only. Despite their importance for food security and nutrition, less than 1% of the studies reported on legumes only and 25% reported on a combination of cereals and legumes, roots, tubers, bananas, vegetables and fruits. We also assessed the 202 papers to determine the purpose of the crops as primarily for human consumption (44%), for human consumption and animal feed (26%) or not clearly stated (30%).

figure 3

a – d , Countries are colour-coded from yellow to red based on number of relevant studies involving cereal ( a ), legumes ( b ) vegetables ( c ) and roots, tubers and bananas ( d ).

Climate-resilient crops and crop varieties were adopted to cope with abiotic stresses such as drought, heat, flooding, salinity and shorter growing season (early-maturing crops), as well as pests associated with changes in weather or climate patterns (disease and pest resistance) (Fig. 4 ). Climate-resilient crops and crop varieties were also adopted to address general challenges associated with climate change and crop system sustainability, such as to improve moisture retention in soil, improve soil quality, and reduce erosion (planting of cover crops and legumes and to reduce vulnerability to food insecurity). The most studied trait in the dataset was drought tolerance, followed by water-use efficiency and earlier maturity. Adoption of early-maturing crops enables farmers to cope with climate change-induced weather variability by allowing them to adjust planting dates when rains are delayed and reducing the chances of yield losses caused by drought or heat waves late in the growing season. Changing of planting dates was identified in 32% of the papers as a strategy to cope with climate change.

figure 4

Studies are divided into the same geographical regions as in Fig. 2 .

In general, the evidence suggests that farmers do not adopt a new crop or crop variety without changing other practices. A total of 136 papers (67%) describe that farmers adopt climate-resilient crops in conjunction with other climate-resilient technologies such as climate-smart agriculture (CSA) schemes and conservation agriculture (CA). Other climate-resilient technologies included: planting of trees and shrubs, reduced or increased investment in livestock and modified planting dates and irrigation (Table 1 ).

Seed and adoption of climate-resilient crops

Seventy-three papers mentioned the topic of seed. The major themes associated with seed that emerged with direct evidence drawn from the papers are summarized in Table 2 . Access to and availability of seed were the most prevalent themes, with 60% of papers mentioning these as issues in the adoption of climate-resilient strategies. Social networks such as farmers’ organizations or co-operatives, as well as access to information, were also reported as facilitators of adoption. These themes refer to different social groups and ways in which farmers can exchange seed or get information about seed.

Social differences and adoption of climate-resilient crops

About 53% of studies reported that social differences (such as sex, education and age of household head) influence adoption of varieties or crops as mitigation strategies against the effects of climate change, whereas 30% of studies did not report any effect of social difference. Fifteen per cent of studies did not include data on social differences. Of the studies that identified social differences as influencing adoption of climate-resilient crops and crop varieties, education (22%), sex (28 %), age (24%) and family size (14%) emerged as the most important factors. Income (6%), access to information (5%), marital status (2%) and experience (2%) were also mentioned, but much less frequently. We examined the papers for sex disaggregation of data, in which sex of household heads was considered. Forty-five per cent of studies reported on the sex of respondents, with 39% reporting on both male and female household heads, 5% including men only, and only 1% of studies including only female respondents. Most of the studies explored social differences only superficially, by including variables in surveys, but few substantiated these findings with follow-up qualitative research to understand the social dynamics driving the observed adoption decisions.

The studies largely concur that socio-economic status of farmers plays a large part in their adoption of climate-resilient technologies. Thirty-one per cent of the studies highlighted the socio-economic status of farmers. Various studies indicated that a nuanced understanding of the socio-economic status of farmers is vital for the targeting of climate-resilient crop technology interventions and their adoption and sustainability in practice. Thirteen studies reported a positive effect of farmer income on adoption. Farmers with access to finance, such as risk transfers (for example, insurance or remittances) and credit (for example, bank loans or community loans), were more likely to adopt climate-resilient crop technologies. Farmers who reported constrained credit were less likely to grow modern crops and more likely to cultivate local varieties 9 . This is partly because the lack of cash or credit may prevent farmers from using purchased inputs 10 .

Evidence on the dis-adoption of climate-resilient crops

Dis-adoption of climate-resilient crops and crop varieties was discussed in 12 of the 202 papers included in our evidence synthesis. The major reasons for dis-adoption included technology not meeting expectations due to poor performance or quality of the technology or variety (8 papers), government policies (3 papers), technical constraints (2 papers), labour shortages (1 paper) or financial constraints (1 paper). Eight of the twelve studies indicated that dis-adoption was specifically due to the performance of a crop variety, and four of these eight studies indicated that the varieties’ performance under stress conditions did not meet farmers’ expectations 10 , 11 , 12 , 13 .

The primary goal of this scoping review was to identify factors in adoption of climate-resilient crops in climate-vulnerable countries. Insights into these factors may inform the design of interventions aimed at equipping farmers to adopt climate-resilient technologies before experiencing devastating impacts of climate change and encourage adoption best practices 14 , 15 .

We show that there is a predominance of cereals in reported studies on adoption of climate-resilient crops (67%). Only 1% of the studies report on legumes only; otherwise, they are considered only in combination with other crops. This may reflect the dominance of cereals in staple foods across the world and biases towards the study of such crops and in the development of improved climate-resilient crop varieties. However, this is a concerning trend given that some legumes, roots and tuber crops (for example, cassava, bambara groundnuts and beans) that are largely neglected in the studies have known climate resilience, are sources of high-quality nutrition and provide more well-established environmental benefits than cereals, such as soil enrichment.

About 50% of the studies included in this scoping review identified agricultural extension and awareness outreach as the most relevant factor for adoption of climate-resilient technologies in low- and middle-income countries. Agricultural extension links farmers with the latest research and engages in a translational practice to make complex information more accessible to farmers. It has been shown that farmers who have access to early-warning systems such as weather forecast systems can better cope and adapt to a changing climate 16 . Farmers plan better for farming activities, including choice of crop varieties to plant, after having had access to weather forecast information (for example, from a community-managed weather station). Emerging digital technologies provide an opportunity to use information and communications technology-enhanced extension and climate services that can provide timely information that farmers can use for decision making and to adapt their farming practices. These could also improve efficiencies of extension services while also reducing their cost. Poor funding for extension services in the developing world have limited farmers’ access to training and expert guidance on emerging technologies 17 . Partnerships with other emerging players in information exchange, such as telecommunications companies and non-governmental organizations, will be key.

Farmers generally tend to be risk averse, which leads to limited investment and adoption of improved agricultural production technology 18 . Experienced farmers use precautionary strategies to protect against the possibility of catastrophic loss in the event of a climatic shock and thus optimize management for average or likely conditions, but not for unfavourable conditions. These ex ante, precautionary strategies include selection of crops and cultivars and improved production technology 18 .

In general, there is widespread agreement that aside from the useful experience that farmers gain from the time they have spent in farming, their experience with climatic shocks is key to their adoption of climate-resilient technologies. Many studies showed that farming experience is influential in adoption and utilization, and previous experiences with environmental shocks such as drought can influence adoption of climate-resilient crops and crop varieties. The more experience farmers have with climatic shocks, the more likely they are to be receptive to the adoption of related climate-resilient technologies. For example, experience with drought shock in the agro-ecological zone of Brong Ahafo, Ghana, increased the probability of adoption of drought-tolerant varieties by 15%, and farmers reported that drought shock was the primary reason for adoption of drought-tolerant varieties 19 .

It has been widely acknowledged that education levels of farmers have a positive correlation with technology adoption, and our synthesis demonstrates that this is also relevant for the adoption of climate-resilient crops 16 , 20 , 21 , 22 . Highly educated heads of households are more likely to readily accept and access information about new technologies in a shorter period of time than less educated heads of households; education was measured as educational attainment and reported in 49% of the studies. A study based in Zimbabwe showed a 52% decrease in production of traditional sorghum varieties in favour of new varieties better suited to drier conditions for every additional year of schooling, and a 5% increase in growing new early-maturing varieties 23 .

Changing crop varieties is one of the most frequently cited climate-resiliency strategies for both men and women farmers, but women are more likely to adopt such strategies when they are aware of climate-adaptation options 24 . Other intersectional variables such as marital status, education and age, in combination with gender, influenced whether improved seed was grown by households 25 . A major shortcoming of the reviewed literature is that most studies included women only when they were household heads. Definitions of household headship are variable, and when women are only included as household heads, their views do not necessarily represent the views of women who live in male-headed households 26 . A large majority of women live in male-headed households, and their views are rendered invisible through this practice 27 . For example, young, poor women who were household heads were the least likely to adopt drought-tolerant maize in Uganda, whereas spouses of male household heads influenced adoption decisions on their husbands’ fields 9 . Only a few studies paid attention to intra-household dynamics, gender roles and relations, and how these shape adaptation decisions 9 , 28 . This limited attention on intra-household gender dynamics and decision making around climate-resilient seed adoption skews the conclusions and recommendations, as the literature does not equally represent the challenges and views of women.

Seed policies in many countries focus on strengthening formal, national seed systems that rely on variety-release mechanisms, seed certification policies and seed companies for distribution. These types of seed systems remain difficult to access for many farmers, and evidence from the papers in this scoping review suggests that strengthening local seed systems is essential. Local seed systems rely on social networks to ensure multiple options to access seed of a range of climate-resilient crops and varieties, including local landraces and improved seed. Thus, context specificity is important for seed systems, as it is for almost all factors influencing adoption of climate-resilient crops and varieties.

The determinants of adoption that we identified are, in many cases, context-specific and therefore implementation of specific interventions is most successful when they are tailored to their environment and the cropping system. Seemingly contradictory or opposing (positive and negative) effects of each determinant of adoption were commonly reported among—and sometimes within—studies. Sex, age, education, years of farming experience and indicators of socio-economic status or wealth (assets) all affected decisions to adopt climate-resilient technologies in context-specific and sometimes opposite ways, depending on interacting environmental, policy and household factors. For example, equal and sizable numbers of studies (13 each) identify positive and negative effects of age on adoption. Whereas some studies identified older farmers to be more reluctant to adopt new technologies, other studies found that the earned experience, broad social networks and accumulation of wealth associated with older farmers may explain a positive effect on adoption. Extension and access to information about climate-resilient technologies and weather might be exceptions to this trend, as these determinants seem to transcend context-specific implementation. The resulting conclusion is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ recommendation to ensure adoption of climate-resilient crops and crop varieties, and interventions are unlikely to uniformly benefit all climate-vulnerable farmers (Table 3 ). This is consistent with the large number of papers in this study that reported farmers adopting climate-resilient crops as part of broader climate-resilient strategies.

Climate resiliency at farm level is essential to achieve food security and improve livelihoods of rural communities, especially in countries and communities that depend on local agricultural production to ensure household income and achieve daily adequate caloric intake and balanced nutrition. Understanding the factors contributing to adoption and dis-adoption of climate-resilient crops provides opportunities to increase adoption and reduce the impact of climate change on rural communities in developing countries. The most important determinants of adoption of climate-resilient crops based on our analysis are the availability and effectiveness of extension services and outreach, followed by education levels of heads of households, farmers’ access to inputs, especially seeds and fertilizers, and socio-economic status of farming families. Building resilience to climate change requires a cropping-systems, and more often a farming-systems approach. The results from this scoping review show that the adoption of climate-resilient crops and varieties, in most cases, happens as part of whole-farm and climate-smart agriculture strategies to cope with changing climate. Farmers adopting multiple complementary strategies under climate-smart agriculture help to build highly resilient and sustainable agriculture systems that can respond to shocks associated with climate change and other agricultural challenges 29 , 30 , 31 . Single component intervention programmes or projects are therefore less likely to realize widespread adoption and improvement of resource-poor farmers’ resilience to climate change compared with more holistic, multifaceted approaches that take into consideration the physical, human and socio-economic circumstances of the targeted farmer or farming community. Specific policy recommendations are presented in Box 3 .

Box 3 Recommendations

Access and availability of climate-resilient crops seeds must be combined with relevant and timely advisory services, such as early-warning systems for weather.

Ensuring that farmers have multiple options to access seeds for a range of climate-resilient crops and varieties is essential. This can be achieved by empowering existing social networks, such as farmer organizations.

There is no single profile that applies to all farmers. Therefore, extension services will need to continue to evolve to be (1) participatory, (2) information and communications technology enhanced, and (3) partnerships based. This partnership should include various actors, such as women’s groups, universities, the private sector and non-governmental organizations in order to provide customized and appropriate information for diverse needs.

High-quality studies are needed on how members of households—and not just heads of households—make decisions about how to respond to climate change. This research will fill in the evidence gaps on gender and social differences and reasons for dis-adoption of climate-resilient crops and related technologies, and promote a more diverse group of climate-resilient crops that also provide food security and nutrition, such as legumes and root crops.

National policies need to support farmers’ access to other assets and services, such as education, land, finance services and diverse income-earning opportunities. Without these provisions, especially education, the adoption of climate-resilient crops and technologies will be limited.

A multiple-interventions approach is needed if countries want to promote adoption of climate-resilient crops. Farmers do not adopt climate-resilient crop or crop varieties without changing other practices, such as planting dates, water-conserving technologies, planting trees and shrubs, or increasing or decreasing livestock.

Farmers will not adopt climate-resilient crops solely on the basis of environmental-adaptation qualities. Development and breeding programmes must consider farmer and market trait preferences.

Mandating disaggregated data collection to identify strategies that are working and who they are working for in agricultural surveys and research will enable policy makers and donors to respond with more appropriate and informed interventions.

Unlike a typical narrative review, a scoping review strives to capture all the literature on a given topic and reduce authorial bias. Scoping reviews offer a unique opportunity to explore the evidence in agricultural fields to address questions relating to what is known about a topic, what can be synthesized from existing studies to develop policy or practice recommendations, and what aspects of a topic have yet to be addressed by researchers.

Evidence synthesis methodology and protocol pre-registration

This scoping review was prepared following guidelines from the PRISMA extension for scoping reviews (PRISMA-ScR) 32 . This framework comprises five steps: identifying the research question; identifying relevant studies; study selection; extracting and charting the data; and collating, summarizing, and reporting the results 33 . The protocol for this scoping review was registered on the Open Science Framework before study selection 8 . The full protocol is available in the Supplementary Information .

Research question

The guiding question for this scoping review was, ‘what are determinants that lead small-scale producers in low-and middle-income countries to adopt climate-resilient crops and crop varieties?’.

Information sources, search methods and citation management

An exhaustive search strategy was developed to identify all available research pertaining to facilitators that lead small-scale producers in low- and middle-income countries to adopt climate-resilient crop varieties. Search terms included variations of the key concepts in the research question: small-scale producers, germplasm and climate resilience. The search algorithms were formatted for compatibility with each database so that they may be reproduced in their entirety, and they can be accessed at . Searches were performed in the following electronic databases by K.G.K.: CAB Abstracts and Global Health (accessed via Web of Science), Web of Science Core Collection (accessed via Web of Science) and Scopus (accessed via Elsevier). A comprehensive search of grey literature sources was also conducted. Search results were de-duplicated to remove redundant citations identified from multiple sources. To facilitate acceleration of the screening process, machine-derived metadata were added to individual citations, for example, identifying populations, geographies, interventions and outcomes of interest. This enabled accelerated identification of potential articles for exclusion at the title- or abstract-screening stage.

Eligibility criteria and study selection

Studies were included for data extraction and analysis if (1) their focus included a population of small-scale food producers; (2) they were published between 1990 and the start of the search (1990 is when the IPCC first met and produced their first report on climate change); (3) they presented original research (qualitative and quantitative reports) and/or reviewed existing research, including grey literature; (4) they explicitly focused on or were clearly relevant to climate change resiliency or climate change adaptation; (5) they explicitly focused on crops, varieties, seed, planting materials or germplasm; (6) they mentioned factors for adoption; (7) they included target populations in countries classified as lower and middle-income by the World Bank. Studies that did not meet all of the aforementioned inclusion criteria were excluded.

Study selection was performed in two stages. In a first step, articles were uploaded to the systematic review software Covidence, and title and abstract screening was performed by all authors to exclude articles that did not meet all inclusion criteria. Each article was reviewed by two independent authors, and discrepancies were resolved by a third independent author. Full-text screening was then performed by M.A., K.C., S.M., N.Z., H.T., K.P., L.B. and K.I., and inclusion decisions were made by a single reviewer. Studies included in full-text screening were those that met all inclusion criteria or those whose eligibility could not be established during title and abstract screening. The PRIMSA flow diagram in the Supplementary Information presents the study selection process and indicates the number of articles excluded at each phase of screening.

Data extraction and analysis

A data-extraction template (available in the Supplementary Information ) was developed to document the data and study type and context of each citation and all themes of interest. The data extraction first collected data on the paper quality, study location, population socio-economic data of the population and crop and cropping system characteristics. Second, the data-extraction template was used to collect information about the determinants of adoption and associated socio-economic factors influencing the adoption or dis-adoption of the climate-resilient crops. In total, 29 factors and determinants were selected. Additional rater observations and comments were included to increase analysis depth. Finally, raters also recorded policy and programmatic information and recommendations mentioned in the papers to support the adoption of climate-resilient crops. The data-extraction template was tested by the review team before use and data were extracted by the authors. The extracted data were qualitatively summarized on the basis of emerging themes and with the aim of providing recommendations to donors and policy makers. An assessment of study quality is not typically carried out as part of a scoping review 7 , 34 .

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon request.

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We thank the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation of Germany (BMZ) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for the support to conduct this study under the Ceres2030: Sustainable Solutions to End Hunger programme.

Author information

These authors contributed equally: Kevin Pixley, Nkulumo Zinyengere.

Authors and Affiliations

Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA

Maricelis Acevedo, Hale Tufan, Kate Ghezzi-Kopel & Jaron Porciello

CIMMYT, Mexico City, Mexico

Kevin Pixley

World Bank, Washington, DC, USA

Nkulumo Zinyengere

University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, USA

USDA-ARS, East Lansing, MI, USA

Karen Cichy

International Institute for Sustainable Development, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Livia Bizikova

Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA

Krista Isaacs

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M.A., K.C., S.M., N.Z., H.T., K.P., L.B., K.I. and J.P. provided expertise on content, extracted data and wrote the manuscript. K.G.-K. and J.P. provided systematic review methods and information retrieval.

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Correspondence to Maricelis Acevedo .

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Extended data

Extended data fig. 1 access to advisory networks and knowledge about climate change..

Social determinants captured in this graph are a small-scale producers access to demonstration plots, access to weather and climate info, education of the head of household or respondent if not head of household, experience and skills of head of household or respondent, access to extension and outreach, access to social networks including co-operatives, and a knowledge and perceptions of crops and traits.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Crops fit for purpose.

Social determinants captured in this graph include farmer’s selection of a CR crop or variety based on environmental and agro-ecological conditions, cultural practices and preferences about CR crops and varieties, and selection based on knowledge about a crop traits.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Education, experience and household characteristics.

The social determinants captured in this graph include age of head of household or respondent, family size, gender, social and economic status of household, and diversification of household income.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Enabling environment.

The determinants captured in this graph include a farmer’s reported power and agency, access to institutions, and access to government programs.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Access to finance and technical resources (not advisory).

The determinants in this chart include access to energy and electricity, access to labour, access to water, distance to market for inputs and outputs, farm infrastructure, farm inputs (seeds and fertilizer), land (size and tenure), non-farm infrastructure, access to finance (transfers and credit).

Extended Data Fig. 6

Prisma Flow Diagram.

Supplementary information

Supplementary information.

List of included studies, scoping review protocol and data-extraction template.

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Acevedo, M., Pixley, K., Zinyengere, N. et al. A scoping review of adoption of climate-resilient crops by small-scale producers in low- and middle-income countries. Nat. Plants 6 , 1231–1241 (2020).

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improved agricultural practices for crop production essay

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Microbiota and Biofertilizers, Vol 2 pp 119–128 Cite as

Traditional Farming Practices and Its Consequences

  • H. Hamadani 5 ,
  • S. Mudasir Rashid 6 , 7 ,
  • J. D. Parrah 5 ,
  • A. A. Khan 6 ,
  • K. A. Dar 5 ,
  • A. A. Ganie 6 ,
  • A. Gazal 8 ,
  • R. A. Dar 5 &
  • Aarif Ali 6  
  • First Online: 01 April 2021

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Traditional farming practices are based on the indigenous knowledge and experience developed over the centuries and have remained popular even now. Common traditional farming practices include agroforestry, intercropping, crop rotation, cover cropping, traditional organic composting, integrated crop-animal farming, shifting cultivation, and slash-and-burn farming. Although there are many benefits involved with these practices, such as improved soil fertility, carbon sequestration, resource utilization, biodiversity maintenance, sustainability, and environment protection, there are also certain negative implications associated with some practices such as slash-and-burn activities in shifting agriculture. Traditional farming is getting global attention for being a source of sustainable food production in times of environmental degradation and need for safe food production.

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How to Improve Agriculture Production, Tips, Ideas, Ways and Techniques

Table of contents, types of agricultural production systems , agricultural production activities , 1. implementation of land reforms , 2. interplant , 3. plant more densely, 4. manuring , 5. plant many crops, 6. water use and soil management , 7. sustainable agriculture, 8. raised beds , 9. smart water management , 10. high-quality seeds , 11. selection of varieties , 12. farm management software , 13. improved monitoring technology , 14. credit and insurance, 15. heat-tolerant varieties , 16. intercropping / polyculture .

Introduction to how to improve agriculture production : Agricultural productivity is defined in terms of total output per unit of input – partial factor productivity (PFP) measures such as land productivity (production) and labor productivity. It can also be defined as the total output of total input per unit. The increase in agricultural production is due to the development of agricultural inputs and technologies (where the latter is measured as TFP growth) which enables farmers to produce higher yields with a certain amount of input utilization.

How to Improve Agriculture Production

Increasing agricultural productivity through sustainable methods can be an important way to reduce the amount of land required for farming and to slow down environmental degradation and climate change through processes such as deforestation. Productivity, which measures the increase in production that is not measured by the increase in production inputs, is a close-up view of economic performance due to its contribution to a healthy and developing economy. In this article we also covered the below topics about improving agriculture production;

  • Ways to improve farming productivity 
  • What does agricultural development mean? 
  • Key steps to improving farming productivity 
  • Factors determining productivity in agriculture 
  • Why is agricultural production important? 

Agricultural productivity is measured by the ratio of agricultural production to input. Although individual products are generally measured by weight, called crop yields, different products make it difficult to measure aggregate agricultural production. Agricultural production is measured as the market value of the final product. 

Guide on how to improve agriculture production, types, activities, ways to improve agricultural production

Improve Agriculture Production

Depending on the type of crop and its use, there are different types of agricultural production. Depending on the available traditional, organic, or conventional management systems the types of feed or row crops grown. The production and management of maize, cotton, wheat, soybean, and tobacco crops are profitable for farmers. 

Crop production also includes the exchange of feed sources and resources used to maintain the dairy herd and prepare the crops needed to participate in the meat industry. The animals provided by the farmers are provided with nutritional supplements or minerals and grass or hay for forage. 

Improving agricultural production is a catalyst for both economic and social development. In developing countries, increasing agriculture and increasing its productivity is considered important to meet the goals of sustainable development and significant poverty reduction. There has been a long-standing consensus among development economists that an increase in agricultural production is necessary if agricultural production is to be increased at a rapid rate to meet the growing demand for food for a growing non-agricultural population.

  • Agriculture – Soil cultivation, Planting, nurturing, and harvesting crops; Raising, feeding, and managing animals. 
  • Aquaculture – Raising private aquatic animals (Fish) 
  • Floriculture – Growing flowering plants
  • Horticulture – Growing fruits, vegetables, and herbs. 

Ways to improve agricultural production 

Agricultural development – Increased productivity comes from innovative farming techniques and innovations such as improved seed and nutrient management and best practices for animal health. Focusing on ecosystem services, such as preventing pollination and erosion, can increase and maintain productive benefits over time. 

Field productivity is important for several reasons. Providing more food, increasing productivity affect the growth of the farming market, migration of labor, and income. Learning how to improve productivity is an important aspect of productive farming. New methods have allowed farmers to increase productivity and maintain the long-term sustainability of their farms. 

Land reforms are the first and most important point for improving productivity. Machines, tractors, and implements make ground improvements. These machines have the advantage of smoothing out rough farming areas for efficient fieldwork. It is easy to work in the field, that is, it is easy to improve productivity. Land reform is the best way to increase productivity. 

State Governments will have to make special efforts to enforce land reform legislation so that the slogan ‘Land to the tiller can be put into practice. Unless this is done, the farmer will have no incentive to invest in land and adopt new farming techniques. Therefore, land reform is the first and foremost need.

In case if you miss this: Soil Preparation In Agriculture, Methods, And Tips

Use tractors to Improve Agriculture Production

Land reform, a meaningful change in the way agricultural land is held or owned, the farming methods used, or the relationship of agriculture to the rest of the economy. Such reforms can be announced by the government, interest groups, or the revolution. The price of land reflects its relative scarcity, which depends on the ratio between the area of ​​land commonly used in a market economy and the volume of the population of the area. 

The distribution of wealth and income is determined by the laws governing land tenure. These rules define the acceptable forms of terms and the accompanying privileges and responsibilities. In this sense, the form of the term determines the distribution of wealth and income based on land: if private property is allowed, then the class distinction is inevitable. On the contrary, public property eliminates such distinctions. Terms range from temporary, conditional holdings to fee-for-ownership, providing complete irresponsible rights to control and dispose of land.

Interplanting is a process in which different crops grow together at the same time. This is a great way to maximize crop productivity. Some crops are good together, some are not. It is the planting process for a fast-growing crop between slow-growing crops to make the most of your garden space. 

This is the easiest way to improve the productivity of the fields, the crops come close to each other in this plant. Many farmers keep their vegetables too far away, leaving large areas to grow well. 

Nutrients are needed for crops to grow and produce. Thus, it is important to supply nutrients at regular intervals. Manuring is the stage where dietary supplements are provided and these supplements can be natural (fertilizer) or chemical compounds (fertilizer). Manure is a decomposing product of plant and animal waste. Fertilizers are chemical compounds that contain plant nutrients and are commercially prepared. In addition to providing nutrients to the crop, fertilizer also replenishes soil fertility. Other methods of soil filling are vermicompost, crop rotation, planting of legumes. 

In case if you miss this: How To Start Organic Farming In India – Schemes

Use best fertilizers to Improve Agriculture Production

The next way to increase productivity is to plant more crops. 

About 40% of the world’s food is grown through irrigation. But large amounts of this water are lost due to leakage into the irrigation system itself. Also, improper irrigation is a major cause of soil salinity. About one-tenth of the world’s irrigated land is destroyed by salt. With the threat of climate change, more and more regions of the world are at risk of drought and desertification.

Improved irrigation methods will help protect vulnerable land. Such techniques allow scientists to determine the exact nutritional and water requirements of the crop under certain conditions, making it possible to find sustainable alternatives for the area. 

This policy seeks to promote the sustainable development of agriculture through the use of technically strong, economically viable, ecologically degraded, and socially acceptable use of the country’s natural resources – land, water, and genetic endowment. Then, try to promote

  • Measures will be taken to control the biological pressure on the land and to control the indiscriminate rotation of agricultural lands for non-agricultural purposes. The unutilized wastelands will be used for agriculture and forestry. Special attention will be given to increasing crop intensity through multiple crops and intercrops. 
  • Reasonable use and protection of the country’s abundant water resources will be promoted. The combined use of surface and groundwater will be a top priority. Special attention will be paid to water quality and the problem of falling groundwater levels in some areas as a result of the over-exploitation of groundwater resources. 
  • Over the last few decades, the erosion and narrowing of India’s plant and animal genetic resources have been affecting the country’s food security. Special attention will be given to the survey and review of genetic resources and the safe conservation of genetically modified local and exotic genes in crop plants, animals, and their wild relatives.
  • Agroforestry and social forestry are basic requirements for maintaining ecological balance and increasing biomass production in agricultural systems. A major emphasis will be placed on agroforestry for efficient nutrient cycling, nitrogen fixation, organic matter augmentation, and improved drainage. Farmers will be encouraged to work on farm/agroforestry to generate more income by developing technology, extension, and credit support packages and removing barriers to agroforestry development. 

In the traditional farming system, the crops are placed in rows separate from the tractor trails. It creates dense gardens, short paths, and more active growing areas. Raised beds are a symbol of improving crop productivity. 

Water is a must for planting crops and with water management, you can increase productivity. Water management is the best way to improve productivity. By using a sprinkler irrigation system, you can increase yields by up to 50%. Manufacturing canals provide better irrigation systems to protect crops from tube wells. By using a drip or sprinkler irrigation system you can increase crop yield by up to 50%. 

In case if you miss this: Annual Flowering Plants In India

Implement sprinkler irrigation system to Improve Agriculture Production

Plants need water to survive. In some areas, they get all the water they need from the rain. However, this is not always the case, especially in arid regions of the world. In such regions, farmers can use irrigation to keep their land sufficiently moist. Overall, farmers irrigate about 18% of the world’s crops. 

Techniques used to irrigate crops vary widely in their performance. At the bottom of the performance, spectrum are systems such as canal irrigation, field flooding, and sprinkler-based irrigation. At the higher end are targeted irrigation systems such as drip irrigation. Unlike previous methods, drip irrigation provides water to plants in a way that reduces evaporation and generally does not provide plants with too much water. However, in some cases, drip irrigation is not an option. Under these circumstances, farmers can use advanced sensors to determine the amount of moisture in their fields and tailor their irrigation efforts accordingly. 

Recent research shows that small farmers (who grow about 80% of the world’s total food) have very limited access to high-quality seeds. This is a relatively easy problem to solve, as it is very easy to get high-quality seeds. After a farmer receives this type of seed, he can generally continue to reap the benefits of high-yielding varieties for many years to come, by saving and replanting the seeds he harvests in each season. 

Better heat-tolerant varieties allow the plant to maintain its yield at higher temperatures. Heat tolerant varieties can increase crop yields by up to 23%. 

Managing your farm without tracking your every move is like driving blindfolded. Farm management software helps you gain complete control over your farming activities and analyze the use of all information and costs so that you can identify your weaknesses and make appropriate improvements.

Farmers, especially in developing countries, often do not know how much water and nutrients their plants need. Such technology is especially useful in areas where significant resources are scarce. Lack of resources in such places can lead to disputes among farmers. Any technology capable of minimizing resource loss, therefore, can improve relationships as well as profits.

In case if you miss this: Vegetable Farming In Karnataka – Planting Calendar

Improved monitoring technology using agricultural drones

Other promising monitoring technologies include drones and remote sensors mounted on satellites. These sensors can help farmers identify the right parts of their fields that are prone to pests, diseases, and malnutrition, and thus allow the implementation of targeted intervention measures. 

Credit reform is the key to increasing the productivity of small farms. According to international standards, the gap between deposit and lending interest rates is high. There is a need to improve the efficiency of the financial delivery system by controlling both transaction and risk costs.

The government needs to significantly improve the speed and procedure of crop insurance as well as the debt collection and settlement process. Given the decline in agricultural profits and the plight of farmers, the government should consider assisting the banking system to reduce interest rates on crop loans. 

In the case of successive natural calamities, rescheduling and restructuring of farmers’ loans are not enough. The Central and State Governments should take steps to create an Agriculture Risk Fund to provide relief to farmers in the event of persistent drought and flood and pest infestation. 

Heat-tolerant varieties allow the plant to maintain its productivity at high temperatures. We need to improve heat-tolerant varieties, and this increases crop yields by up to 23%.

Monocropping, the practice of growing a single crop on a large piece of land, is the most common form of agriculture. Although effective in some situations, monocropping can deplete nutrients in the soil, and do little to promote biodiversity. In an alternative system called intercropping, farmers keep several different types of plants close together. This arrangement promotes plant health and creates symbolic relationships between species. Many farmers add animals to the mix as well as for pest control and fertilization. While intercropping is generally more labor-intensive than monocropping, the yield per acre of intercrop farms is often more than a single crop field. 

About 5% of crops are destroyed by pests, insects, and diseases, according to agricultural scientists. Most farmers are oblivious to the use of pesticides and insecticides in recent years. The use of these drugs is essential to improve crop yields. To be aware, farmers should take action against these governments or employ their technical staff in spraying pesticides and insecticides.

Insects are another serious threat to productivity. They can destroy crop yields and transmit disease to both crops and livestock. According to conservative estimates, the use of pesticides also reduces food production by 25-35%. Furthermore, there are concerns that reliance on pesticides to maintain production not only harms the environment but may also cause insects to develop resistance to the pesticides themselves. Through its pest and pest control program, the agency is using nuclear science to develop environmentally friendly alternatives to pest control.

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Good info Really educative

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  2. Improved Agricultural Practices

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  3. Crop Production And Management

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  4. Basic concepts in crop production

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  5. PPT

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  3. Improved crop quality, increased yields, and reduced production expenses

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