Stories tagged: innovation

Enabling Ecosystem Partnerships to Accelerate Sustainable Agriculture and Reach the SDGs

Natasha Santos, Vice President, Head of Global Stakeholders Affairs and Strategic Partnerships at Bayer Crop Science, outlines how smallholders can be better equipped to help the world achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

When they were released in 2015, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were rightly celebrated as an ambitious blueprint for sustainable development. But could the creators of the SDGs have anticipated the seismic shocks to our planet – and food systems – in the years that followed?

By itself, the coronavirus pandemic has set back efforts to achieve the SDGs’ goal of zero hunger by 2030, with the UN projecting that the global community would miss the mark by some 660 million people. Now we must also reckon with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – a humanitarian disaster that will have consequences reaching far beyond Europe.

Nearly 30 per cent of global wheat exports and 75 per cent of sunflower oil exports come from Russia and Ukraine, according to industry estimates. India relies on Ukraine for more than three-quarters of its supply of sunflower oil, while a spike in the cost of wheat is being felt across Africa.

Shocks like the lingering coronavirus pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the ever-present threat of extreme weather driven by climate change put an exclamation point on the need to establish more resilient food systems.

Nearly 30 per cent of global wheat exports and 75 per cent of sunflower oil exports come from Russia and Ukraine. Photo credit: Hollis Bennett

Future-proofing food systems through our farmers

Despite these challenges, the opportunity to end hunger and build a more sustainable future for agriculture is still within reach. But to achieve the innovation and future-proofing necessary to insulate the food system from shocks like climate change, COVID-19 and conflict will require instruments that work for both people and the planet.

Crucially, we will need to engage stakeholders throughout the agricultural value chain. Above all, these solutions need to reflect and respond to the lived experiences of the millions of farmers who grow – and earn a living from – our food. Too many well-meaning efforts to develop sustainable farming practices have left out one essential ingredient for success: the voices of farmers themselves.

Bayer’s Global Carbon Initiative is built around engaging farmers as key partners in the movement toward sustainable agriculture. The initiative aims to accelerate climate-smart agriculture by paying farmers for adopting sustainable practices on the farm, like tillage reduction, cover cropping, and crop rotation. In addition to the financial incentive, participating farmers may also realize improved soil health, leading to increased yields, profitability, and sustainability.

The initiative, which kicked off in the United States and Brazil in 2020 and expanded to Europe and Argentina last year, is integral to Bayer’s commitment to enable our farming customers to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of crop produced by 30 per cent through 2030. This applies for the highest greenhouse gas emitting crop systems in the regions Bayer serves with its products.

The program aligns with Bayer’s participation in the EU Carbon+ Farming Coalition, a coalition of 14 multistakeholder organizations working across the food and agriculture value chain to accelerate uptake of sustainable practices in Europe, with an emphasis on farmer-centered solutions.

There is a need to engage stakeholders throughout the agricultural value chain, writes the author. Photo credit: Getty Images/Bayer

Advancing sustainable agriculture

Programs such as these can help boost engagement in sustainable agriculture by equipping farmers with the resources and incentives that work for them. But more effort is needed to reach growers who are farther down the value chain, economically and geographically, such as the world’s smallholder farmers. Prohibitive start-up costs, limited access to finance or credit, a lack of information about how to participate, and even foundational issues like land tenure insecurity can all blunt their participation.

Targeted investments can help. In sub-Saharan Africa, Mercy Corps’ Agrifin Digital Farmer (ADF) program is helping reduce the costs of technology for farmers to access critical information and resources, which facilitate uptake of sustainable farming practices. Supported by Bayer Foundation, ADF has expanded digital services ranging from text messaging alerts to smart phone applications to 5 million smallholder farmers across Africa.

The program was pressure-tested in 2020, when East African farmers faced the dual challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and an invasion of desert locusts that threatened to destroy crops. In response, Mercy Corps delivered public health and pest control messaging to more than 16 million smallholder farmers. Local farming communities became first-responders combatting the locust invasion, reporting sightings of the migratory pests to help facilitate control efforts by government authorities in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Equipping African smallholders with the means and the incentive to participate in climate smart agriculture could not only lead to more sustainable management of existing farmland, but also spur recovery of degraded lands. Both would be a boon for food security on the continent, restoring and protecting the soils that are vital for growing nutritious food.

Food insecurity, soil health and climate change must be addressed together, writes the author. Photo credit: Zoran Zeremski

Investing in collaboration

Food insecurity, soil health and climate change are so intertwined that they must be addressed together. We already know that all can benefit from the innovation that will be needed to solve these most pressing challenges.

For farmers, the benefits are manifested in more efficient and productive farming practices, good for the environment and their bottom lines. For the private sector, investing in sustainable farming can strengthen core business strategies and foster research and development.

Farmers need access to better seeds, fertilisers, and other inputs to close the yield gap and adapt to changing climate, pests, and disease pressures. This is where government can play a crucial role by creating a policy environment supportive of agricultural innovation. Unfortunately, underdeveloped seed systems and a lack of political will to approve technology for wider use mean that efforts to deliver seeds to farmers still lag in many parts of the world.

Time is something we cannot afford to waste. The war in Ukraine illustrates that sudden shocks to the food system can have far-reaching consequences. To better withstand the pressures on global food security, we need to invest in collaborative approaches that work for farmers and the planet. As the world rushes to meet the SDGs’ core target of zero hunger by 2030, we have 660 million reasons to act swiftly and decisively.

Header photo / producer credit: Alamy / Christopher Scott

Moving Small-scale Farmers Up the Ladder of Protection and Possibility

Professor Michael R. Carter, founding director of the Resilience+ Innovation Facility, outlines how the Resilience+ framework can help smallholder farmers flourish through better risk management.

Life is constantly changing, and this is especially true for small-scale farmers. Ideally, a farming family’s livelihood will improve over time: they might grow a little more food to be able to sell locally, and then set aside whatever they can to protect themselves in the inevitable next disaster.

While life may change, risk is a reliable constant. One of the primary ways farmers manage their risk of losing crops is to reduce how much they stand to lose in the worst of circumstances. Avoiding investments in inputs like improved seeds or fertilisers can help a farming family to survive a disaster, but it also stunts their ability to improve their circumstances over time. Although a disaster can drive a rural family into poverty, the risk of a disaster can keep them struggling. But does that have to be the end of the story?

At the University of California, Davis, we recently established the Resilience+ Innovation Facility to spark inclusive agricultural transformation among small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

More than a decade of research shows that it is possible to shift these dynamics with effective and accessible financial tools to manage risk. The most recent advances have made it possible to take the next step with bundled financial tools that respond to a farming family’s changing needs and circumstances over time, helping them to move up the ladder of both protection and possibility.

In Mozambique and Tanzania, the author tested a bundle of stress-tolerant maize seeds developed by CIMMYT in combination with a low-cost form of insurance. Photo credit: Jonathan Malacarne

Resilience+ – a framework to manage risk

Resilience+ is a term we use to describe two ways in which rural families benefit from more effective tools to manage risk. First, a financial instrument that provides support in the wake of a shock can help a family to recover quickly with a lower likelihood of long-term or lasting impacts. Second, when a family knows they will have this protection, they tend to increase their investments in producing more food and income.

In Burkina Faso and Mali, I led a study from UC Davis testing a low-cost form of insurance for small-scale cotton growers. In Mali, a coup d’état forced the project to halt in 2012, but the direct impact on cotton investments was already substantial. Farmer groups who purchased the insurance increased their planting by between 25-40 per cent, which would at harvest increase average income by about US $300.

In Mozambique and Tanzania, we tested a bundle of stress-tolerant maize seeds developed by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and a low-cost form of insurance that would trigger seed-replacements after severe drought.

We were surprised to find that farmers who received replacement seeds achieved higher yields than even before the shock. Surveys showed that in addition to planting those seed replacements, farmers also increased their total investments in improved seeds. After experimenting with the bundle, they were able to learn for themselves its benefits.

Tools to generate Resilience+

A number of financial instruments make it possible to build from these and other successes in generating Resilience+. The most well-researched is agricultural index insurance, a form of insurance that by design is low-cost and easily scalable in even the most remote rural communities. Instead of basing payouts on losses that are individually verified, index insurance triggers payouts based on an area’s average conditions that are correlated with losses. However, there is the chance that an index will fail to trigger payments if the estimates of average losses do not reflect a farmer’s actual losses.

Today, we have new indexed financial tools that don’t come with the same level of risk as index insurance. One of these is a kind of savings account that limits withdrawals to pre-defined need, such as after a drought or for investing in agricultural inputs. Another instrument is a contingent loan that functions like insurance but without premiums paid in advance. An evaluation of such a loan designed in partnership with the NGO BRAC in Bangladesh showed that it increased rice planting by about 25 per cent, and households who did not suffer any flood losses produced about 33 per cent more from their crops.

There are a number of financial mechanisms help generate Resilience+, but more research is needed writes the author. Photo credit: Unsplash

A new approach to an old problem

While each of these instruments moves money through time to a present moment of need, they have different prerequisites. Savings require cash, emergency credit requires creditworthiness, and insurance requires the money to pay premiums as well as trust in the contract and an understanding of how it works.

The benefits of each instrument also vary. With savings, farmers are guaranteed to receive the money that they paid in advance. By contrast, a loan and insurance provide access to money through leverage. Because of its low cost, insurance seems the most viable for households with the least means. However, it is the most potentially dangerous: if payouts do not trigger for actual losses, a farmer is not only without the expected support but is also out the money paid in advance for protection.

The various qualities and mechanisms of these three instruments make them potentially powerful complements as a farmer’s circumstances and opportunities change. But there is a need for research that provides evidence from the field about how this flexible approach can meet the changing needs of small-scale farmers – a cause that helped give rise to the Resilience+ Innovation Facility.

This Resilience+ approach to development is designed to leverage existing networks of local private sector companies to reach small-scale farmers and pastoralists with better tools to manage risk. This approach is critical to ensuring that our successes are self-sustaining and continue to expand opportunities for rural families to achieve stability, prosperity and resilience.

Michael R. Carter is a distinguished professor of agricultural and resource economics at the University of California, Davis and honorary professor of economics at the University of Cape Town. Carter directs the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Markets, Risk & Resilience and is the founding director of the Resilience+ Innovation Facility.

Mighty Tools for Mighty Farmers: Investing in Climate-Smart Agriculture Innovations for Smallholder Farmers

Dr. Jim Barnhart, Assistant to the Administrator, Bureau for Resilience and Food Security, U.S. Agency for International Development.

The climate crisis is a food security crisis. Drought has killed cattle in Kenya and destroyed maize in southern Zambia. Extreme heat has damaged the wheat crop in Bangladesh and droughts and flooding following extreme storm events in 2020 damaged nearly a half million acres of staple food and cash crops across Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, with resulting losses to farmer incomes.

More than 500 million smallholder farmers in the developing world are on the frontlines of feeding communities and contributing to their economies. Now, they are facing a warming world that is changing the food system as we know it. But too often those who have contributed the least to climate change carry the burden: the 50 lowest-income countries have 20 percent of the world’s population and produce less than two percent of global carbon emissions. That’s 24 times less, per person, than emissions from the highest-income countries.

Smallholder farmers urgently need tools to help them prosper in a changing climate, protect their livelihoods, and feed their families. They need those tools now. This is a critical moment for countries to invest in agricultural research and development (R&D) and innovation. Such investments help farmers feed their communities – particularly women and youth farmers who face historic inequities, despite being essential agents of change. This is where the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM for Climate) comes in.

Tackling global hunger and climate change through innovation

At its heart, AIM for Climate seeks to address two challenges simultaneously – global hunger and the climate crisis. It is a joint initiative led by the United States and the United Arab Emirates that countries voluntarily join with the intent to significantly increase their investment in climate-smart agriculture and food systems innovation over five years (2021-2025). Investing in agriculture R&D is about using the power of innovation to accelerate advances such as development of new crop varieties that can weather extreme conditions, enhance farm management practices to preserve soil and water resources, improve cold storage that prevent food spoilage, and scale innovative approaches developed by local farmers. AIM for Climate encourages support of existing country systems and knowledge – for example, building the capacity and network reach of National Agricultural Research Systems, which are government entities that provide smallholder farmers with critical information on planting material and techniques.

Each country chooses how it will increase its climate-smart agriculture and food systems investment, which can include everything from biotechnology and agroecology, to extension services and private sector partnerships. Whatever the form, innovation and the implementation of inclusive, practical, locally appropriate solutions is essential. In support of AIM for Climate, President Biden announced that the U.S. intends to mobilize $1 billion in public investment in climate-smart agriculture and food systems innovation over five years at last year’s COP26, and the initiative has already marshaled $4 billion globally in increased investment.

A Tanzanian farmer is showcasing her onions. Photo credit: Likati Thomas, Feed the Future Tanzania Mboga na Matunda

An urgent need for investments

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is energetically encouraging partner countries to join AIM for Climate, to not only support climate-smart agriculture and food systems, but also to help reduce gender inequities in food systems. The need is great. While the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme recommends that research and development be one percent of a country’s total agricultural budget, sub-Saharan Africa invests only 0.38 percent, South Asia 0.46 percent, and West Asia and North Africa 0.49 percent. Though there are a variety of reasons for this (including the economic impacts of COVID-19 on countries’ budgets) USAID is committed to working with our partners to spur innovation in key areas, such as climate-smart agricultural practices and technologies, and facilitating equitable access to and benefits of these technologies for women, youth, and groups facing exclusion.

As part of our commitment to advancing context-specific, science-based solutions to the effects of climate change on agriculture, USAID is investing at least $215 million over five years in the global research platform CGIAR, with a goal to help 200 million smallholder farmers raise agricultural productivity in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa by 25 percent by 2030. Our support includes funding for the CGIAR Gender Platform, which is engaging in a major research program on climate and gender, as gender equality hinges on giving more attention to women’s active roles in climate adaptation and mitigation.

Shared challenges in the face of climate change

The climate crisis presents many shared challenges, and our climate-smart investments benefit both smallholder farmers abroad and Americans. Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, supports 21 U.S. university-led Feed the Future Innovation Labs, a network of more than 70 U.S. colleges and universities. The network includes numerous Land-Grant Universities as well as Minority Serving Institutions that partner with research institutions in low-and-middle income countries. Together, they use science and innovation to protect the global food supply and reduce food insecurity by developing climate-resilient crops, tackling plant and animal diseases, and building sustainable agricultural systems.

At COP26 – in alignment with AIM for Climate’s objectives – USAID Administrator Samantha Power announced the launch of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Current and Emerging Threats to Crops, led by Pennsylvania State University. The Innovation Lab will leverage the university’s proven Plant Village approach, which works to increase the yield and profitability of millions of smallholder farmers in Africa through artificial intelligence and satellite technology – as well as the university’s pest management expertise and global networks – to tackle transboundary pests and disease exacerbated by climate change. Additionally, USAID  awarded a new Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Horticulture, led by the University of California, Davis, to address the opportunities and challenges of production, post-harvest, enterprise development, and commercialization of horticulture, thus reducing  food loss and waste.

These efforts are moving us  in the right direction, but no one can do this alone. AIM for Climate welcomes participation from governments, the private sector and NGOs. (For those interested in finding out more, we encourage you to visit AIM for Climate’s website.) Here’s the bottom line: The more of us participating in AIM for Climate, the more tools smallholder farmers have to feed and support themselves, their families, and coming generations. All people deserve the promise of a well-nourished life. We encourage you to join in – the future needs us.

Header image photo credit: Ou Andeng CFR, World Fish, Kampong Thom Province, Cambodia

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