At the same time, agriculture is a massive contributor of greenhouse gases, helping to stoke the planetary warming that in turn affects the climate system. Farming accounts for at least a quarter of world greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
By itself, it contributes 17 percent of the warming effect, especially through emissions of methane - a stronger heat-trapper than carbon dioxide - which comes from animal farming and rice paddies. Deforestation and conversion of virgin land to the plough are also powerful factors in the emissions total.
Ideas abound for fixing the problem, although mustering the finance to do it remains a tricky question. The compelling vision is of a world where agriculture makes smarter use of less resources, providing more food with less carbon pollution.
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Much of the thinking focuses on helping smallholder farmers, especially in Africa, with sustainable techniques. Crop rotation, drought-resistant seeds and restricted use of water are among the options and low tilling of soil, especially in winter, is favored.
Agricultural scientists are also big champions of the humble legume - a plant that includes peas, lentils and captures nitrogen from the air and fixes it in the soil, providing a natural fertilizer.
Sebastien Abis, a researcher at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations (IRIS), a Paris think tank, points to a world population that is expected to reach 9.7 billion in 2050, compared to 3.7 million in 1970. Demand for meat, a big contributor to carbon emissions, is also expected to surge.
That makes it "dangerous" for people to think there can be a letup in food production, said Abis.
Hans Herren, an award-winning Swiss development expert who is president of the Millennium Institute, a Washington-based NGO, is a little more sanguine. He believes the quest should be on providing better calories rather than more of them. Slashing waste and encouraging efficiency are the key.
"Today the planet provides twice as much food than it needs - 4,600 calories per person per day, whereas we only need 2,300 calories," Herren said in an interview with AFP.