Green light for smallholder farmers

Technology improves productivity, slashes costs


Lack of access to technologies and information, poor infrastructure and lack of access to markets, political instability can also play a role and a lack of access to financing are all factors that plague smallholder farmers. Fortunately, the private sector has been listening and solutions abound. We spoke to Kobus Steenekamp, Country Manager for Monsanto, to find out more.

How can getting modern agricultural technology to smallholder farmers help rid the world of hunger?

The future and wellbeing of millions of people lies in the hands of farmers – large commercial farmers as well as smallholder farmers. As a leading global provider of technology-based tools and agricultural products that improve farm productivity and food quality, we believe that it is important to deliver products and solutions that enable both small-holder and large-scale farmers to produce more from their land to meet the world’s growing food needs, but at the same time still conserve natural resources and protect the environment.

Plant biotechnology, genomics and breeding can play a big role in improving productivity and reducing the cost of farming.

We also offer weed-control options that form the basis of integrated solutions with other Monsanto products. We define sustainability very simply: Helping farmers produce more with fewer resources to help improve lives. With the help of our partners and continued investment in research and new technologies, we are making steady progress on our sustainability goals.

What is the best way to develop reliable systems for delivering better seeds and agricultural technology to the world’s poorest farmers?

Seed distribution is important so that all farmers can have access to good quality products. It should be available for all inputs, not only seed, as a farmer also needs fertilizer and other chemical products for weed and insect and pest control. Infrastructure is of high importance, especially the establishment of road networks, conditions of roads, off-set points for products and off-take points for grains and other harvested products for better access to markets.

Partnerships and making sure that all farmers have equal access to modern technologies such as good quality seed – OPVs, hybrid or GM depending on their choice. But also access to other technologies and products such as good crop protection chemicals, fertilizer and advisory services. Marketing tools are also essential.

Monsanto understands that participating in the development of small-holder and emerging farmers will be the route out of poverty, unemployment and overcoming food scarcities. We are committed to creating solutions to these challenges while helping to take care of our planet, our people and the communities where we live and work. We are also committed to inclusive growth, enabling a successful and sustainable agricultural platform in South Africa and across the world, by first focusing on the basics, such as access to financing, increased investments in programs to train emerging farmers on best practices, providing high-quality seeds and crop protection products to improve harvests while using water and other valuable recourses more efficiently. We believe, as private sector, that our responsibility does not end there. It’s about ensuring the long-standing success of our farmers, aiding the transition from emerging to commercial status by bringing what modern agriculture has to offer in the latest technology and agricultural innovation.

Monsanto is built on Improving Lives – a foundation of business and inclusive growth principles. Our approach to improving the lives of small-holder and emerging farmers began more than 20 years ago with investments towards inputs, training and development and grants. Partnerships such as the one we have developed with MASDT over the years have been pivotal in reaching these farmers.

Today, Monsanto has a dedicated Empowerment Programme – “Imbewu” – focusing on enterprise and supplier development, skills development and socio-economic activities. The ultimate goal is to improve lives. We do this in three ways. First, promoting sustainable development - and offering the latest products Monsanto has to offer thereby doubling the farmer’s yields making farming profitable; second, ensuring farmers are not perpetually dependent on donor funding, which we do by offering opportunities on training and best practices, education around sound business practices such as budgeting for the following year’s input expenses; and third, to inspire other emerging farmers to modern agricultural innovations.

How have advances in data science and biology made it easier for more farmers to benefit from new technology?

In the 1940s, the first wave of what is now called the Green Revolution brought significant advancements in plant breeding. This era was quickly followed by additional waves of innovation in advanced breeding and biotechnology, which helped reduce risk and increase food production.

There have been many advancements in agriculture since then. Among the most significant is how smartphones and tablets are putting the power of data science into the hands of farmers to help them optimize their harvests while using resources more efficiently. These devices have become such a big part of our daily lives that it’s hard to believe they’ve been around for less than a decade. We’re just starting to realize their potential to improve the way food makes it to our dinner tables.

Through The Climate Corporation, a division of Monsanto, we help farmers use data to make more informed decisions about their operations by measuring and delivering information on soil, field and weather conditions. These decisions help farmers to be more productive on each acre of land, using resources more efficiently and getting the most out of every harvest. We believe that through data science and the availability of digital technologies, we’re now on the cusp of another key point in agriculture – the “Green Data Revolution” that will usher in the data-driven farm of the future.

Here are two key things you should know about how smart tech and the Green Data Revolution can help bring us the nutritious foods we need and want, all while using the same or fewer farming acres we use today.

First, data helps farmers plan for better harvests. Data can be used to create predictive models that help farmers optimize farming decisions throughout the season. More informed decisions lead to improved farm productivity and better harvests. That increases farmers’ abilities to grow enough food to feed a world population that is expected to reach more than 9 billion people by 2050.

Second, data enables decisions that are better for the planet. Just like you and I might check the weather on our smartphones, farmers can use web-based technology and apps to help make decisions like when to plant, how much fertilizer to apply and which seeds to use on different parts of a field to get the best level of production. This access to data helps farmers get the most out of every acre, driving better outcomes on the farm and our planet.

The Green Data Revolution represents an important frontier in the advancement of farming and our collective ability to meet the food and nutrition needs of present and future generations.

Are GMOs the solution to drought?

As with all technology, the GM drought trait can be seen as one of the tools in the packet available to farmers. It is one of the solutions that can make a contribution towards higher and more stable yields. Drought tolerant traits, GM and normal hybrid traits developed by breeding for a certain quality and trait, may be some of the solutions in addressing dry conditions and spells. But it is important that practices such as minimum tillage and mulching can also play a very important role. Remember if it does not rain, nothing will grow, even drought-tolerant hybrids. However, during times when rainwater is necessary for a plant, a drought GM trait can help the plant to survive and can assist in giving a yield and crop to a farmer that would have lost the entire crop if he/she had not had access to the technology. GM drought traits can also assist in irrigation crops during times when irrigation should have been applied but water was not available.

Gene editing will provide another, modern tool to use to develop high quality products for farmers to use. It can bring new traits and characteristics to the field and it can also bring benefits to the comsumer.

If farmers ask for information and then demand access to technologies, governments may be more inclined to embark on trials and regulatory processes.

Scientific regulatory access can play a role in providing piece of mind to farmers. It should ensure ensure quality and safety of products and should act in the interest of all parties.


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Issue 46


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