By Dr. Margaret Zeigler
Global Harvest Initiative
The May 21, 2013, Chicago Council Global Food Security Symposium brought government, business, and civil society leaders together to capitalize on the power of connecting science, trade, and business to end hunger and poverty. At Global Harvest Initiative, these concepts are woven into our policy and investment priorities that can improve productivity throughout the value chain and sustainably meet the demands of a growing world.
The application of new and existing technologies across the agricultural value chain is a significant factor in raising agricultural productivity. Science-based technology, such as seed and fertilizer, and information technology, including better weather models and plant spacing techniques, increase yields through better inputs and better on-farm decision-making.
Many speakers at the Chicago Council event focused on the importance of farmers’ access to science and information technology to sustainable increase agricultural productivity.
Dr. Mauricio Antonio Lopes, president of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), explained that a move to science-based agriculture, including improved seeds and no-till agriculture, helped Brazil increase efficiency and productivity by up to 200 percent and reduce land expansion into sensitive rainforest environments.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation deputy director of research and development Dr. Rob Horsch talked about the importance of working with local farmers to adapt technology to solve local problems. Critically, he also stressed the importance of a feedback loop whereby farmers determine what they need and provide information on how technology worked, which is fed back into the research.
Brett Begemann, president and chief commercial officer of GHI member Monsanto, also focused on the needs of the farmer, saying our focus and energy must be centralized around the farmer and built out from there, because “regardless of scale, agriculture is tough.”
Begemann asked two important questions – Does the farmer have technology? Does the farmer have basic agriculture knowledge and information about the crop they are growing?
The private sector and international development programs are working to make both answers ‘yes.’ Two examples from the Chicago Council symposium are below.
In Africa, Monsanto is part of a public-private partnership with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and others to develop drought-tolerant maize for Sub-Saharan Africa smallholder farmers. The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project is looking to plant seeds in Kenya this year.
To get best-practices information and local solutions to farmers, Digital Green built a platform for farmers to share expert information with each other through online videos. Rikin Gandhi, Digital Green CEO, explained that online video and mobile phones are really the tools to get technology (information) to local farmers. Digital Green videos reach thousands of rural farmers through small-group screenings in India.
By working at the nexus of science, trade, and business, leaders from across sectors can advance appropriate science- and information-based technologies, broaden information availability, engage the private sector, and support productive and sustainable agricultural value chains. The food and nutrition security challenges facing us are significant, but so are the technology tools available to farmers, ranchers, and pastoralists around the world.
Dr. Margaret Zeigler has dedicated her career to addressing global hunger and food security, currently serving as the executive director of the Global Harvest Initiative, a private-sector voice for productivity growth throughout the agricultural value chain to sustainably meet the demands of a growing world. The Global Harvest Initiative’s growing membership includes Accenture, DuPont, Elanco, IBM, John Deere, and Monsanto. Follow Dr. Zeigler on Twitter at @Harvest2050_MZ and Global Harvest Initiative at @Harvest2050.