With nearly a billion people suffering from chronic hunger, global food security remains a major concern, despite being a key goal of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Extreme weather events due to climate change and the recent trend to convert croplands to biofuels both threaten to put even more people at risk.
The solution, says el-Beltagy - a member of TWAS, the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World - must involve a renewed concentration on agricultural research in the South.
Writing in the spring issue of the TWAS Newsletter, el-Beltagy outlines the steps that will be needed to ensure that developing countries can take advantage of cutting-edge agricultural technologies, such as genomics and nanotechnology, that have the potential to increase crop yields without unduly stressing the environment.
Building such capacity will depend upon overcoming two obstacles: The North-South gap, which delays the transfer of technologies to the developing world, and the gap between developing world research communities and farmers working in the field.
Agricultural research institutions in the South, el-Beltagy says, must work more closely with their counterparts in the North, to develop technology transfer initiatives, and with policy-makers in their own countries, to convince them of the value of what they do and to advocate for policies that help farmers make use of the best available technologies and management strategies to increase crop yields.