Donald Plucknett At UF: “Agricultural Research At 2000: Will The Remarkable Transformation Achieved In The 20th Century Continue?”

Serya Yesilcay

Don Plucknett

GAINESVILLE — Agriculture holds the key to solving some of the most crucial global problems, an agricultural expert told a University of Florida audience during a recent lecture.

With world population on the increase, the only way to meet nutritional needs is through continuing agricultural research and implementing new methods, said Donald Plucknett, president and principal scientist with Agricultural Research and Development International, Annandale, VA.

Plucknett told the audience that worldwide agricultural production may have to double during the next 20 years to keep up with population growth.

“The future of global food supply depends on how well agricultural technology gets implemented in the 21st century,” he said.

Looking back, it was only two or three decades ago that experts were predicting massive, worldwide famines, he said.

“Those predictions failed mostly because of research breakthroughs and improvements in scientific agriculture.”

Instead, agricultural production drastically increased in the past 40 years, and the 20th century brought &quottremendous growth and an increased stability of food and agricultural transformation, which fueled unprecedented economic and social change,” Plucknett said.

But for that change to continue into the 21st century, a lot still needs to be done, Plucknett said during his presentation at the annual York Distinguished Lecture Series hosted by UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences on March 23.

Plucknett’s contribution to the field spans more than 35 years as researcher, teacher, author, speaker and advisor in tropical agriculture and international agricultural development. That includes a 13-year period at World Bank as senior scientific advisor to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. CGIARC supports 16 international agricultural research centers that helped boost world food supplies since the 1960s and were instrumental in coining the term ‘Green Revolution.’

“Within a segment of my lifetime, the farm life I knew as a child changed dramatically,” Plucknett said, stressing the role research played in speeding developments throughout the 20th century.

He also credited science-based agriculture, where farmers were able to follow the latest advances and increase crop yields, as one of the main reasons for advancement.

“Science came to the farm in the form of new crop varieties, new machines, new chemicals to assist production and new production practices,” he said. “In the United States, ‘science power’ helped propel rapid growth in agricultural productivity.”

But to keep up with global needs, scientific agriculture needs to be extended to the rest of the world, Plucknett said.

“Global collaboration will be crucial for future trade and market developments. Research has to continue, as agriculture becomes even more knowledge, information and management-intensive than before.”

Agriculture can only flourish into the next century through taking scientific agriculture to developing nations, managing resources more wisely and implementing new tools like genetic engineering, Plucknett said.

Unfortunately, despite a remarkable record over the past century, agriculture is experiencing difficult times, he said.

“It is being pushed to do more but with fewer resources.”

And decreases in both U.S. and international support for agricultural research signal danger, Plucknett pointed out, especially with a growing anti-technology and anti-science thinking in both developed and developing countries.

“If these trends continue, agricultural transformation is almost certain to slow, and its symptoms are certain to cause heartache, misery and even death to millions of people,” he said.

Agriculture can help by transforming economies and reducing poverty through solving food problems, but only if existing knowledge is harnessed fully, Plucknett concluded.

“Everybody wins when we improve agriculture.”