Feeding a Hungry World: CIP Reflects on World Population Day

With the observance of World Population Day July 11, we checked in with Oscar Ortiz, CIP’s Deputy Director General of Research, to discuss ways in which CIP’s mission maps to the challenges around population expansion that the day is intended to highlight.


“CIP is well aware of the challenge of feeding a growing population in the coming 30 or 40 years,” said Ortiz. “As part of CIP’s strategy through the year 2023, we have already established some lines of research to address [population-growth] issues with our main crops, potato and sweetpotato.”


Crops with enhanced yield, drought resistance and higher levels of zinc and other key nutrients are well placed to fight food insecurity related to population increases, he observed.


CIP is developing varieties with greater nutritional value, such as orange-fleshed sweetpotato, whose naturally occurring beta-carotene, Vitamin A and other nutrients make it a food staple for millions. 


Developing and implementing climate-smart varieties is another key aspect of growing more food to feed more people, Ortiz said. “A number of new scientific findings in the area of genomics will help us identify more clearly the genes that determine how resistant the plant is to heat and drought,” he explained. For example, the type of roots a given variety has is one of many factors that dictate the extent to which it can tolerate reduced watering.


Developing sweetpotato and potato varieties that feature both enhanced nutritional content and can tolerate the demands of a changing climate is not only possible, it’s well underway. “We started some time ago in this regard, and are moving toward testing in the field,” Ortiz noted. “It’s doesn’t have to be either/or.”


World Population Day, established by the UN Development Programme in 1989, was inspired partly by what was known as Five Billion Day, marked on July 11, 1987: the day the earth’s population was thought to hit five billion people. The current global population is over 7.4 billion people.


A number of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, codified in September, also dovetail with CIP’s work to develop climate-smart crops, increase nutritive value of those crops and support smallholder and female farmers across the globe.