Meeting the growing demand for food will require a major increase in agricultural production, akin to the Green Revolution that dramatically reduced hunger in the last half-century. The approaches that raised yields before, however, cannot significantly raise them beyond current levels, and the environmental impact of agriculture is exceeding a “safe operating space” for humanity.
This discussion brief examines ways to sustainably close the gap between potential and actual yields, with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa and South, Southeast and East Asia, where the yield gap is currently greatest. It finds that assessing the yield gap is a challenge in itself, because common measures of productivity fail to account for economic, environmental and other factors that affect yields, especially among smallholders who may be growing multiple crops. There are many examples of agricultural practices that can boost yields while also increasing environmental sustainability and resilience, but the fundamental challenge will be to better understand local conditions and tailor solutions and incentives to specific agro-ecological contexts.