Affamés de science

AMSTERDAM – Dans le delta du Mékong, les producteurs agricoles obtiennent 6 à 7 tonnes de riz par hectare en saison sèche et 4 à 5 tonnes par hectare dans les saisons pluvieuses, utilisant des variétés de riz à maturation rapide qui permettent d’obtenir jusqu’à trois récoltes annuelles consécutives. En revanche, les producteurs de riz de l’Afrique de l’Ouest récoltent seulement 1,5 t par hectare de riz cultivé habituellement en milieu sec, tandis que le rendement des céréales ne dépasse pas plus d’une tonne – une donnée comparable aux rendements de l’Europe médiévale.

De telles disparités ne sont pas inévitables. En fait, grâce à la prolifération de technologies agricoles – du matériel agricole plus efficace aux variétés cultivées qui donnent de meilleurs rendements ou des récoltes plus résistantes – une grande partie de l’écart de productivité a pu être comblé, malgré les climats et des producteurs différents.

Ainsi, une nouvelle variété africaine de riz cultivé en milieu sec, le Nerica, triple les rendements annuels. De même, au cours des quatre dernières décennies, des méthodes améliorées d’élevage, des aliments de meilleure qualité et de meilleurs soins vétérinaires ont plus que doublé la moyenne de la production laitière mondiale. Malgré cela, des écarts régionaux demeurent énormes : les vaches laitières aux Pays-Bas peuvent produire environ 9 000 litres de lait annuellement, alors que les élevages de zébus des tropiques ne produisent que 300 litres par tête.

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