Virginia Tech’s GAP Initiative makes the case for agricultural productivity growth as key to the future of food systems

June 15, 2021


Blacksburg, Virginia, June 15, 2020 – In anticipation of the UN Food Systems summit, a publication released today argues that accelerating agricultural productivity growth, especially for small-scale producers, is imperative to the future of agriculture.

In “The Case for Productivity: Invigorating agricultural systems for the twenty-first century,” Virginia Tech’s Global Agricultural Productivity Initiative describes how productivity growth meets growing demand for agricultural goods and addresses global threats to human  and environmental and human well-being.

“This publication provides a fundamental understanding of agricultural productivity: how it is measured, how it grows, and why it matters to our food and agricultural systems,” said Ann Steensland, leader of the GAP Initiative.

Agricultural productivity growth occurs when land, labor, fertilizer, mechanization, livestock and animal feed are used efficiently to generate more crops, livestock, and aquaculture products.

The efficient use of agricultural inputs reduces agriculture’s environmental impact and lowers costs for producers and consumers.

Increased greenhouse gas emissions, food and nutrition insecurity, and land erosion are some of the potential consequences of not prioritizing productivity growth.

“To accelerate this growth, we need to ensure that all farmers, especially those at smaller scales, have access to science-based innovation and information,” said Tom Thompson, associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of CALS Global.

The GAP Initiative, which publishes the annual Global Agricultural Productivity Report estimates that agricultural productivity needs to increase by an average annual rate of 1.73 percent to sustainably meet the demand for food and agricultural products in 2050.

Globally, productivity growth has been below the target for several years.

Productivity growth in low-income countries has declined alarmingly to just 0.5 percent, according to the most recent data from the USDA Economic Research Service published in the 2020 GAP Report.

During the virtual event to launch the publication, experts from the non-profit and private sectors discussed the importance of productivity growth at all scales of agriculture, especially for the smaller producers who grow most of the world’s food.

  • Jennifer Billings, Global Agricultural Development Lead, Corteva Agriscience
  • Pawan Kumar, Director of Agricultural Development, S.M. Sehgal Foundation (India)
  • Stewart Leeth, Chief Sustainability Officer, Smithfield Foods
  • Ginya Truitt Nakata, Director of Latin America and the Caribbean, International Potato Center (CIP)
  • Mel Oluoch, Regional Director, Sasakawa Africa Association
  • Ben Pratt, Senior Vice President of Government and Public Affairs, The Mosaic Company
  • Natasha Santos, Vice President of Global Stakeholder Strategy, Bayer Crop Science
  • Megan Seibel, Farmer and Director of the VALOR Program, Virginia Tech
  • Aaron Wetzel, Vice President, Small Ag & Turf Production Systems, John Deere

“The Case for Productivity: Invigorating agriculture for the twenty-first century,” is available on the GAP Initiative website, along with a recording of the event:


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