Farming and Agriculture

Expert Panel Discusses Climate Resilient Crops and Supply Chains

13 February 2023, Egypt: The Agriculture Innovation Mission (AIM) for Climate is an initiative of the United States and the United Arab Emirates that seeks to address climate change and global hunger by promoting increased investment in support of climate-smart agriculture and innovation. AIM for Climate promoted its climate objectives at the 27th UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) hosted in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt in November 2022. COP27 was a gathering of world leaders committed to act against climate change by addressing key issues and policies.

2Blades was one of four Innovation Sprint partners featured at the AIM for Climate event ‘Investing in a Food Secure Future.’ Notable speakers at the U.S. Center event included United Arab Emirate Minster of Climate Change and the Environment, Almheiri, US Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack, and Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry. “Innovation in agriculture was squarely on the climate agenda at COP27,” said Diana Horvath, who attended and moderated the 2Blades’ panel that followed.

The panelists were Dr. Nick Talbot, Executive Director of The Sainsbury Laboratory, Dr. Chelly Hresko, Global Portfolio Lead on Disease Management of Row Crops, Bayer Crop Science, Dr. Peter Goldsmith, University of Illinois professor and Director of the USAID Soybean Innovation Lab, L. Stupin, Product Development Manager, Pivot Bio, and Dr. Kamil Witek, Team Lead in the 2Blades Group at The Sainsbury Laboratory. Dr. Toshihiko Komari from Kaneka Corporation could not join the panel live and shared a pre-recorded video of Kaneka’s innovations.

Considering important advances in precision breeding, resilient seeds, improved soil fertility, and knowledge transfer for climate-smart agriculture, the panelists addressed what actions are needed to build robust, efficient, and equitable food systems.

What are the goals for successful food production systems?

Panelists identified features of more sustainable food system, such as getting off the chemical treadmill and deploying genetic solutions to crop diseases. “We have the scientific understanding of the immune system of plants,” pointed out Talbot. Crops that are adapted to climate change from biotic and abiotic stresses are important and will help to reduce fungicide use, added Witek. Reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are a major target for Bayer, said Hresko. They aim to reduce emissions from agriculture by 2030 by 30%. They are focusing innovation there for large scale agriculture in North and South America and on producing more food per acre. Kaneka envisions a future with better access to useful traits through enabling technologies, with an emphasis on gene editing in major crops, such as soybean. The Soybean Innovation Lab is paving a path for small and medium scale African growers, seed companies, and other practitioners in soybean to be greater adopters and beneficiaries of technology. Ms. Stupin emphasized stable access to resources such as fertilizer, which have been adversely affected by the war in Ukraine this year, and “every time we talk about climate change we should be thinking about small holder farmers.”

What is needed to realize food system goals?

Certain hurdles were identified to achieving these better food systems.  Several panelists identified a need for a more straightforward regulatory system to enable broader technology deployment and for more dialogue with consumers and policymakers about the benefits of precision breeding for sustainable agriculture. Dr. Witek pointed out that R&D funding for plant science is inadequate. Given the importance of plants in food, feed and carbon capture, he noted “it’s shocking how little money is going into R&D in plant science.” Trait improvement and delivery have very long development times, prompting Hresko to wish for a “crystal ball” – technologies that can help project what challenges are coming. In sub-Saharan Africa demand for soybean is “scorching,” according to Goldsmith, and access to capital is what is limiting.

Much ag innovation has been driven by the private sector, how do we deliver benefits for all?

Professsor Talbot noted there is more alignment of interests across companies and non-governmental organizations than may be realized. There is much to learn from diverse agricultural practices, but “we need to deploy the best scientific minds across the world on this problem because it’s really urgent.” Dr. Goldsmith stated that the question of the distribution of benefits and access to technology is very important; the key is to ensure that the trade-offs are considered ahead of time and are transparent. The pointed out that the challenge, is to achieve improvements soon, not 20-30 years out.  Dr. Hresko referred to a Food and Agriculture Organization report that found that some rural African farmers only get about 10% of the value from their land.  “Productivity is extremely low, partly from pests and diseases. If success from biotech as has been achieved in South America could be realized in Africa, there’s clearly much production that could be gained.” Bayer works to use their knowledge to help in food insecure areas. Ms. Stupin reiterated that we need all the approaches – “a very large toolbox.”

What messages do more people need to hear?

  • There is so much happening in Africa today that warrants a look from technology and capital providers
  • Smallholders should be at the center of climate change conversations
  • Doing nothing is no longer an option – we need to act, coordination is key
  • We need more rapid adoption of technologies
  • We need minds open to scientific evidence and acceptance at the policy and consumer levels, especially where wealthy consumers are impacting other parts of the world: we have tools today but are hampered in using them.

Also Read: Developing Agricultural Research Institutes

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