If all the world powers dropped their agricultural subsidies at the same time, then only countries who the market dictates could most efficiently produce a crop would produce that crop.
Subsidies setup market inefficiencies by distorting the principles that affect supply and demand (basically making the price the consumer pays and the price the supplier recieves different. Countries do this to ensure that their own farmers make enough money to survive, sometimes even paying farmers not to crow crops. However, this is unfair because poorer countries cannot afford to settup these subsidies, and if they want to recieve funding via the IMF or WB, then they must agree not to use the money to subsidize local farmers.
Therefore, if all subsidies on agriculture were dropped simultaneously around the world, then all countries would produce only what they are best at producing, and total global output for agriculture would go up.
Fundamentally it comes down to two options, we can increase the productivity of the land we already farm, or we can bring more land into farming (cutting down rainforests etc). Since I’m guessing anyone reading this agrees with me that the second option is a bad one, we are left with the question of how to increase productivity on the land already farmed.
1. Increased inputs: spay more fertilizer to help plants grow bigger, more pesticides to control insects, fungus and weeds that would otherwise damage part of the crop. Irrigate more land so the plants aren’t stressed by lack of water. Increase human inputs: put more people to work in agriculture, doing everything from hand weeding to propping up plants blown over by the wind. (Some of this category may be necessary, but it’s an not ideal solution for obvious reasons: fossil fuel inputs, global warming, limited supplies of fresh water, and the fact that migrant agricultural worker is a lifestype few would choose)
2. Improved genetics. A little of this can be genetic engineering, but most of it is conventional and marker assisted breeding. Since the 1940s, yields of many staple crops have greatly increased (wheat yields per acre in the US have tripled, corn yields have gone up six-fold) as a result of two things, the availability of cheap fertilizers, which belong in category #1, and breeding programs at public universities and seed companies. The great thing about plant breeding is that unlike the inputs described in #1, once a more successful crop has been bred it’ll continue to be beneficial year after year without costing more money, while fertilizer or field hands have to be payed for every year. A great example to illustrate that point is an variety of rice that better survives flooding developed by the international rice research institute that is currently being given away to farmers can could save enough rice that would otherwise die from flooding to feed an extra 30 million people in Bangladesh alone. [citation 1]
3. Improved Agricultural Practicies. This is probably the key one. Everything from how to plow a field to limit soil erosion (or knowing when you don’t have to plow a field at all) to improved rotations of different crops through a field to maintain soil nutrients and keep the pests of any one crop plant from building up in the field. Or including plants that provide a home for natural predators of crop pests in a field to protect the crop without spraying. Basically, figuring out better ways to farm. Like breeding better crops, the great thing about improved agricultural practices is that once they’ve been discovered, tested, and taught to farmers, they continue to keep yields high every year without any continued costs to farmers or aid organizations. Land grant universities spend a lot of time developing and testing new agricultural practices citation 2 is a report on various types of rotations tests by North Dakota State.
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