How to produce more with less

''If you compare population figures with the world's acres of productive land and yield, you conclude that the world will need to produce more,'' warns Frank E. Vandiver, president of Texas A & M University. ''But how do we produce more with less, how do we maximize production?''

To find answers, Dr. Vandiver plans to build a network of ''world universities.'' He says that linking the world's best research institutions is an essential step toward ''solving the fundamental question of shortages of basic commodities.'' He says that, beginning with a 1983 conference on world food and water problems, he hopes his university will become ''a clearinghouse for studies and programs that would help alleviate food and water problems on a global scale.''

Already Vandiver, a historian, is busy recruiting faculty. Besides agricultural experts, he is looking for the engineers and chemists he says are needed to ''develop new protein sources'' and to solve storage and distribution problems.

Texas is the ideal test bed for a new multi-disciplinary approach to farm problems, he explains. ''You can look across this state and see the world in microcosm, with too much water in the east and desert conditions in west Texas, '' he says. ''So we can duplicate conditions of almost any part of the world.''

American-based research also seems logical because the United States has doubled its agricultural output over the past 30 years.The world as a whole must duplicate this achievement over the next 30 years to keep pace with population growth. And, as Vandiver and others warn, the world needs to step up output without causing the environmental damage which has been one of the uncounted costs of American agricultural productivity.

One nearer-term example of how technology could tranform the world food supply comes from North Carolina State University's Department of Soil Science. Based on more than eight years of intensive cropping with high fertilizer use in the normally infertile soils of the Amazon Basin, four researchers report that carefully managed year-round farming can yield both good crops and steadily improved soil.

This particular experiment with 20 consecutive harvests of rice, corn, soybeans, and peanuts in Peru, the researchers state, indicates that ''soil properties improve with continuous cultivation systems combining intensive management and appropriate fertilization.'' This new ''Yurimaguas technology'' offers third-world farmers ''the prospect of increasing their yields six to tenfold,'' the North Carolina soil scientists say.

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