Whenever I introduce Terviva as a company at conferences or events, I always start off by saying, “Terviva develops new crops for marginal land”.
Very few people ask me why that’s important, or why anyone should care about new crops for marginal land.
And yet, for the people who work at Terviva, that “why” factor is at the heart of what we do. It’s what motivates us and drives us to work intensively toward our goals.
So I’d like to share “why” we develop new crops for marginal land. I’ll break our logic down into three parts, to be covered across two blog posts.
(1) Why marginal land matters
(2) Why new crops are necessary for marginal land
(3) What is Terviva’s unique approach to this opportunity
First – why marginal land matters….
In agriculture, the big picture goal is to increase food production. The often-cited UN statistic is that, over the next 40 years, global population will increase by 2 billion people, and the world will require 70% more food production.
To meet this challenge, we need to farm more acres, farm more per acre, and – even more basically – maintain the viability of existing land.
It is estimated that 1 to 2% of all agriculture land becomes indefinitely fallowed every year due to soil salinity issues. Now, add in other factors, such as desertification, declining water availability, extreme weather conditions, new crop diseases, and volatile macroeconomics. The result: a significant amount of land that was once valuable for farming is now longer so.
There are numerous examples of this marginalization of agriculture land. We specifically work in three affected areas:
Florida: citrus greening disease has wiped out nearly 50% of citrus tree acres in the last decade (almost 500,000 acres).
Texas: extended droughts have triggered irrigation water cutbacks and declining productivity in rice, corn, and cotton farming
Hawaii: sugar and pineapple farming, once mainstays of Hawaiian agriculture, have almost completely ended, due to competition from lower cost geographies in Asia.
It’s unlikely that any of these three areas will recover to the point where their land will once again be farmed for their traditional high value crops. But there may be alternative crops for these areas – ones that can meet the demand for food, feed, fiber, and fuel more efficiently than traditional crops such as corn, soy, and sugarcane.
No matter what, the amount of marginal land in the world is going to continue to grow. Solutions are needed to improve the usability of marginal land, and at Terviva, we think we have some great answers.
Next week, I will write Part II of my post, discussing the need for new crops on marginal land and Terviva’s approach to developing these crops.
Naveen Sikka is Terviva’s CEO.