The food industry benefits from agricultural research

Green Revolution traditions have produced a number of scientific advances for global food security and rural farming communities around the world.

World-leading agricultural research firms have made many technological breakthroughs for food brands, including the improved crop varieties that now account for more than 50% of corn and wheat production in the developing world. A project working with partners conducts over 1,000 field days and training courses each year through field offices in 15 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

Changing the playing field for how researchers collaborate with their peers in academic institutions and private companies around the world has shown inspiring benefits of this approach, which works through new strategic partnerships across cultures, disciplines and sectors. International organizations such as the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and other research centers in the Global South have thrived recently.

A Maize Lethal Necrosis Screening Facility was recently established in Kenya to prevent this devastating disease from spreading across Africa.

The GENNOVATE project has also built a new understanding of the gender norms that can prevent women from engaging in agricultural innovation.

In hindsight, however, efforts have been so busy trying to resolve crop yield constraints and other key issues of the past that we have not been able to fully appreciate the magnitude of the compounding and escalating shocks that lie ahead.

Several times this year, small farms in the Pacific Northwest have been inundated by atmospheric rainstorms that defy historical records. Last summer they suffered from grueling heat events of up to 50 degrees Celsius at the 46th degree north latitude.

Further south, California is experiencing its worst drought in 1,200 years. It has dried up reservoirs and is threatening agricultural viability in the central valleys of California and possibly much of the western United States

Since most people are more concerned with pump prices than with adequate measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we do not focus adequately on implementing measures to avert disasters.

The people who grow the billions of tons of food that feed our planet of 8 billion people struggle with the unenviable task of maintaining and increasing food production despite a climate driven insane by skyrocketing levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

The playing field for agricultural research must therefore shift. Now scientists must focus on strategies to maximize production efficiencies for companies, yield and food quality that will ensure food security today and in the future. They also need to build resilience and make a significant contribution to capturing greenhouse gases.

In this regard, agriculture needs to be incentivized to mitigate climate change by promoting practices and technologies that sequester carbon in plants and soils.

Fortunately, there is enormous potential in the agricultural research pipeline.

For example, we can use transformative technologies like CRISPR and artificial intelligence to test gene function more comprehensively and quickly incorporate improved traits into plant varieties. We might even be able to enhance photosynthesis in our C3 staples like soybeans and wheat with the more efficient photosynthetic abilities of C4 crops like corn.

We already have evidence-based solutions that could be used more widely, such as B. the cultivation of heat and drought tolerant plants. With the right design, crop insurance can also be an effective risk management tool to help stabilize farm incomes and farming regions, including in developing countries, as our weather becomes more variable and extreme.

A mounting mountain of evidence informs us that we will be increasingly affected by the existential threat of climate change. A very challenging future is fast approaching and we must act as soon as possible if we are to prevent large-scale famine, widespread human suffering, forced migration, social collapse and catastrophic biodiversity loss.

The research community, the agricultural sector and humanity at large must now grapple with the future.

Will we rise to the challenge in time? So far our efforts are not enough. Still, we should be optimistic that new technologies and lifestyle changes, encouraged by enlightened leadership and policy, can rebalance our planet’s climate.

Tom Lumpkin is a grape grower and former Director General of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) The food industry benefits from agricultural research

Fry Electronics Team

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