Emerging Crop Science Scenario
Opinion

Emerging Crop Science Scenario

Creating end-to-end crop value chains and strong linkages to farmers and farmer collectives will expand its global competitiveness

  • By Simon Wiebusch , COO, Crop Science Division of Bayer for India, Bangladesh & Sri Lanka | April 07, 2021

The COVID-19 global pandemic and the resulting challenges have highlighted the role of farmers in providing health and nutrition for all and the importance of agriculture to ensure food security worldwide. The pandemic affected everyone but developing nations and rural farming communities faced far greater risks and challenges. While nations imposed stay-at-home quarantine orders, farmers across the world continued to go out and farm to enable adequate food production. Most of these are smallholder farmers, who farm on less than 2 hectares of land each, but together comprise nearly 80 per cent of the world’s total food production (Source: FAO).  

The Indian Subcontinent comprising of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and a current population of 1.78 billion is driven by smallholder farmers with limited access to resources and modern agricultural inputs and technologies. By 2050, the world will have around 10 billion people, with India alone accounting for 1.73 billion, up from its current population of 1.38 billion (Source: United Nations). While the population is increasing, arable land is decreasing, and farmers are grappling with limited natural resources and climate change. Extreme weather conditions such as cyclones, floods, droughts and poor rainfall are lowering crop productivity and farmer incomes. This is especially detrimental to smallholder farmers.

Access to safe, nutritious and affordable food is a basic human need and farmers work hard to grow their crops in ways that make the production of safe and nutritious food possible. To do so, they use seeds, fertilizers and, at times, crop protection to defend their crops against pests, weeds and diseases. Though modern science has helped develop innovative ways to manage agricultural pests over thousands of years, evolving threats still present an ongoing challenge for farmers around the world. The Indian Subcontinent is no different. Farming in this region is primarily rain-fed and that makes farmers dependent on favourable weather conditions. That’s why at Bayer, we are exploring new ideas that can help farmers with tailored solutions to protect their crops and develop in-built resistance to withstand varying climatic conditions. 

Bayer’s interventions in crop science 

Bayer offers a broad range of hybrid seeds as well as chemical, biological and data-driven digital solutions to help farmers safely and responsibly protect their crops from pests such as weeds, disease, harmful insects and fungi. Our diverse and growing portfolio provides farmers with the latest technologies and a wide range of choices for their growing farming needs. These include innovations such as disease and insect-tolerant seeds, pesticides, herbicides, agricultural biologicals such as microbial and digital farming tools. We also work collaboratively with farmers to offer tailored solutions – including agronomic recommendations based on the specific needs of their fields, crops and soil to help ensure productive harvests, defend against pests and improve soil health, all while protecting our natural resources.

The Indian Subcontinent has a significant opportunity to improve productivity and quality of agri-produce both for domestic and export markets. Creating end-to-end crop value chains and strong linkages to farmers and farmer collectives (such as Farmer Producer Organizations) will enable the region to expand its global competitiveness in agriculture.

A viable model is the global, multi-stakeholder Better Life Farming (BLF) alliance, which works with partners across the agri-value chain to support smallholder farmers in developing economies to increase crop yields and farm incomes and promote self-reliant agri-entrepreneurship. The BLF alliance has global partners that include Bayer with its expertise in seeds, crop protection and agronomy; IFC, the development finance institution for impact assessment; and Netafim for drip irrigation technologies. 

The BLF alliance works with additional local partners in India, including Yara Fertilisers for soil and nutrient management; DeHaat, AgriBazaar and Big Basket to enhance market linkages; Tata Trusts for expanding reach to farmer collectives; and Axis Bank for financing. Similarly, in Bangladesh, the BLF alliance works with Bayer, IFC and ACI to create awareness about balanced crop nutrition, soil health and precision irrigation.

In India, the Better Life Farming initiative has led to a doubling of crop yields and tripling of farm incomes among participant farmers while keeping an eye on water usage and integrated farm management. It has created price transparency in the marketplace, increased the bargaining power of smallholders and promoted clusters of rural agri-entrepreneurs. It has also created opportunities for women farmers to be integrated into mainstream farming operations and emerge as rural agri-entrepreneurs.

Smallholder farmer Rajesh Singh from Uttar Pradesh with his green chilli produce. Rajesh Singh is part of Bayer’s BLF initiative and the proud owner of a Better Life Farming center

The BLF alliance’s agri-entrepreneurship model functions through Better Life Farming Centers run by local agri-entrepreneurs. These centres open up economic opportunities for smallholders by enabling knowledge and technology transfer on good agricultural practices (GAP) and delivering services such as market linkages, access to agri-inputs, financial solutions and mechanisation services as well as crop advisory. Currently 475 Better Life Farming Centers are operational in India and Bangladesh. By 2025, the Better Life Farming initiative aims to empower 2.5 million smallholders in the Indian Subcontinent through access to modern agri-inputs and better public health. These smallholders will be served by five thousand agri-entrepreneurs across horticulture, corn, and rice crops.

Need for sustainable agriculture 

The practise of sustainable agriculture can help ensure safe, affordable & enough food and overcome farmers’ challenges around low productivity and income, while conserving natural resources. Digital tools in agriculture are already helping farmers produce more with fewer resources (water, land and energy) and make data-driven decisions in real-time. New technologies like drones are revolutionizing farming. Drones can help identify weeds, pests and diseases and localize the application of crop protection chemicals. Farmers in China and South East Asia have started using drones to reduce their risk and improve profitability. Once drones are approved for use in Indian farms, they can provide farmers with significant benefits including targeted and timely use of crop protection chemicals to reduce crop risks.

Drones can enable safe, precision-based spraying of crop protection chemicals

The industry and government are already supporting the shift to sustainable agriculture by popularizing the use of science-based good agronomic practices (GAP) that are climate-smart and financially viable. The enhanced collaboration will play a critical role to transform agriculture in the region. 

Innovations in modern crop protection and biotechnology have helped change the face of agriculture, offering farmers the benefit of efficiency, productivity and sustainability. The innovation lies at the core of transforming food production. That’s why the Indian Subcontinent needs to accelerate the introduction of new technologies in crop protection to match pace with other big agricultural regions. This means shortening product registration timelines and fast-tracking critical innovations for timely response to emerging threats like the Fall Army Worm impacting corn cultivation. In the case of biotech regulatory reforms, they need to be introduced in conjunction with reforms for crop protection. This requires a holistic regulatory regime starting with breeding, crop protection to biotechnology to mitigate risk and improve yields significantly.

For the Indian Subcontinent to become a globally competitive manufacturing hub for crop protection products, we need enhanced data protection measures to safeguard the investment towards innovation and R&D of new products. With accelerated use of digital technologies and open knowledge platforms, there’s a great opportunity to scale up our regulatory capacity including strong alliances for knowledge transfer with other leading countries. This again will be a strong foundation to accelerate regulatory reforms on a real-time basis. 

Conclusion

Agriculture has come a long way in the Indian Subcontinent, but there has never been so much transformation in such a short period as we are witnessing today. Farming and the whole rural economy have kept up exceptionally well during the COVID-19 pandemic. Modern crop protection technologies have increased farmer productivity exponentially and helped reduce the impact of agriculture on the environment. But progress can only be truly achieved when we use our collective ingenuity to look for answers. 

Science and innovation will not only help progressive farmers, it will completely transform the lives of smallholder farmers, who hold the key to ensuring an even more resilient food system. Enabling smallholders will help feed the region’s growing population, address the challenges of poverty and hunger, as well as help make agriculture part of the solution to climate change. As we think about what lies ahead, we know there are still problems to solve and room to improve. Modern Crop Science will continue to provide a range of innovations and we believe it can help us achieve a better tomorrow for farmers, consumers and global food production.

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