A lot of countries have started to rethink national food security and are developing food production centres in the immediate vicinity of megacities, noted CropLife Asia Executive Director Siang Hee Tan. “This is a golden opportunity for us to really highlight the importance of the surrounding economy, the circular economy, and most importantly, the lack of post-harvest technology,” Tan said. “In Cambodia, 50% of the rice is lost on the farm before it even gets to the miller,” he emphasized.
The 540 million smallholder and subsistence farmers across the globe require different technologies than the large-scale farmers that will feed the emerging megacities of the future, while producers of speciality crops like coffee, banana and palm oil require their own particular solutions, noted Tan. The large-scale farmers have the financial and technical capacity to take a quantum leap forward in terms of productivity, he said, and biotechnology represents an important tool.
The 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to the two women who discovered and developed the CRISPR-Cas9 method for genome editing, which has produced genetically modified crops that are resistant to drought, for example, Tan noted. Cautious governments, however, especially in the EU, are limiting the potential of farmers to achieve such quantum leaps and respond to climate change and other environmental pressures by restricting the use of genetically modified organisms, Tan said. “We need to allow farmers to choose the toolbox,” he said.
How farmers manage inputs is critical, and water is of prime importance, noted Valent Biosciences Chief Commercial Officer Salman Mir. The confluence of biotechnology, precision agriculture and soil rhizosphere management will be important to smallholders, large-scale farmers and speciality crop producers alike, Mir said.
In addition to increasing yield and resistance to pathogens, biotechnology also holds potential to increase carbon sequestration, he added. Crops modified to sequester more carbon could make agriculture part of the solution in the fight against global climate change, rather than part of the problem, Mir noted. The developing technology will be readily embraced by agribusinesses as well as governments across the world keen to transition to low-carbon economies, Mir said.
Recent M&A activity between large international agrochemical groups and environmentally friendly crop protection and nutrition targets, including acquisitions of biorational and biostimulant companies, demonstrates how the drive to make agriculture more sustainable and resilient has gone mainstream, Mir noted. Valent, he said, aims to stay at the vanguard of this trend.
The use of technology to transfer knowledge and aggregate output from small farmers to enable them to compete with large-scale farms could reduce migration away from rural areas and preserve farming communities and traditional skills, Mir said. Technology will inevitably play an increasingly important role in all manner of farming, he said, but agriculture will remain a people-driven business where skills and the capacity to apply innovative technologies will ultimately determine yield.