Bloomberg New Economy Forum

Technology key to sustainable farming practices to feed the globe: Panel

The pace of innovation also needs to keep up if the soil is changing as the climate changes, said Gro Intelligence CEO Sara Menker.
The pace of innovation also needs to keep up if the soil is changing as the climate changes, said Gro Intelligence CEO Sara Menker.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

SINGAPORE - There is an increasing acknowledgement worldwide of how important technology is for sustainable farming practices that can continue to feed the growing global population, said panellists at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum on Thursday (Nov 18).

The pace of innovation also needs to keep up if the soil is changing as the climate changes, said Ms Sara Menker, chief executive officer of Gro Intelligence, an artificial intelligence company headquartered in New York that looks at climate, agriculture and the economy.

She was among four panellists discussing the challenge of feeding a booming global population as climate change makes its impact on agriculture.

Mr Alloysius Attah, CEO of Ghanaian firm Farmerline Group, which aims to help farmers, said that it is key to get technology and knowledge to where they are truly needed.

"The biggest challenge today is that the information that actually exists is in English and is online. It's not in a format that farmers can easily understand," he said, noting that Ghana has 58 local languages and Nigeria has 200, for example.

If information is passed down but there is no proper training, there will be no change in behaviour and no adoption of new practices, he said. These can include learning how to use seeds well and how to plant in a way that reduces the impact of the climate on the soil and farm.

"The transition from old practices to climate-smart practices actually slows down. So there is massive room to figure out a way to use digital tools to offer information to farmers in the language and the format that they can easily understand," he said.

Mr Werner Baumann, management board chairman of German pharmaceutical company Bayer, said that stakeholders have to do more to train farmers and get better tools and products into their hands to increase yields and the resilience of farming operations while also giving them an opportunity to rise out of poverty.

He noted that his company also deals with larger farm operations that are more industrialised, so solutions have to be catered across the spectrum.

Mr David MacLennan, CEO of American food corporation Cargill, highlighted that apart from increasing yields and farmer training and education, it is important to build the infrastructure to get the crops out of the field and to the consumers.

He added that the current iteration of sustainability in farming has to look into regenerative agriculture to improve soil health and use soil for carbon sequestration, which is the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and reduce climate change.

These methods will be part of the solution to improve farmer livelihoods and the greenhouse gas footprint of farming, he said.

Mr Baumann noted that the right solutions with science and technology have to be found to solve the problems of society and the planet.

There also needs to be a confluence of factors, such as the right technology and products and the right incentive system for farmers that improve their livelihoods while ensuring sustainability.

He said: "I've absolutely no doubt that we are going to succeed… Aligning people towards moving in that direction is actually very powerful.

"It starts with organisations that have the right incentive systems (that are) also for the long run. And that is what will ultimately yield the results we need."