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A Brand New Idea for Commodity Exports

By TODD OPPENHEIMER

brand new idea

For generations, the world has labored under a heavy imbalance of trade—not the kind we read about in the news but an invisible one.

The imbalance begins with what agronomists call “the yield gap”—in other words, the difference between the potential production of any given acre and what that acre grows today. Thanks to the creativity of agribusiness, synthetic as it may be, the U.S. closed its yield gap decades ago. In developing countries, however, much of the farmland has been so heavily overused and neglected that their yield gap has only widened. For nearly 50 years, this problem has possessed Rattan Lal, a professor of soil science at Ohio State University, who has spent his career working with subsistence farmers in India, Africa, Asia and South America.

Lal sees today’s food problems as a “trilemma,” with the following three vectors of pressure: climate change, increasing demand for energy, and a rising number of hungry people. “Do you realize,” Lal asked me, “that one billion people now go to bed hungry every night?”—a figure that is likely to only grow as global population rises from 7.2 billion today to a projected 9.2 billion in 2030, and 11 billion by this century’s end.

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