One of the major human activities is agriculture, providing sustenance for the majority of humankind for 10,000 years. The growing efficiency and productivity of agriculture is also responsible for the precipitous increase in human population in the last 500 years. While the rate of population growth is now expected to begin leveling off, most projections nonetheless estimate that there will be an additional three billion people to feed in the next 25 years. By far the major part of this growth will be in developing countries already affected by poverty and undernourishment. At present, despite all this century's improvements in production technology, eight hundred million people are estimated to be undernourished. In the 21st century the expanded global population will compete ever more intensely for food and other resources that agriculture provides. The social, environmental, economic and political repercussions of a failure to meet these demands on the world's agricultural resource base are staggering.
At the same time, an overall decline is being registered in the per capita surface area available for food production. This decline, combined with population increase, means food security is precarious. This is a challenge facing all of humanity, and requires concerted global efforts to find solutions through agricultural research. The major imperative is to find sustainable, cost-effective means of augmenting food supplies, primarily through reliable improvement of crop yields, to meet the inevitable increased demand for resources. The World Food Summit, which took place in Rome in 1996, mandated the conservation of agricultural biodiversity as an essential element in ensuring future food security and underlined the urgency of providing this security to a burgeoning world population. There is now a consensus that growth in agricultural productivity has to be achieved in ways that conserve natural resources and protect the biodiversity of the Earth's precious life support systems, which are already under stress.
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