Editor’s Note: Agri-Pulse and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs are teaming up to host a monthly column to explore how the U.S. agriculture and food sector can maintain its competitive edge and advance food security in an increasingly integrated and dynamic world.

As a scientist and lifelong learner, I’m inspired by great minds committed to building better and more sustainable food systems. In particular, every time I eat a sweet potato I think of Dr. Maria Isabel Andrade, a renowned scientist and World Prize Laureate, who developed disease-resistant and drought-tolerant sweet potato varieties that helped improve food security, nutrition, and farmer incomes in Africa. 

To unlock more solutions, we must continue to advance science, innovation, and collaboration.

Hungry for Solutions 

Amid the market and supply disruptions caused by the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and extreme weather, a silent epidemic – hunger – has been accelerating across our world. Nearly 830 million people go to bed hungry every night, according to the United Nations World Food Programme. While the global food crisis may seem like a distant reality to some, the United States is not exempt. Here, nearly one in eight families do not have enough to eat. In a Harris Poll commissioned by Bayer on food insecurity in America, 69 percent of respondents expressed concern about living in “food deserts” (also referred to as food apartheid) with limited access to affordable and nutritious food. It is estimated that food deserts impact more than 19 million Americans, putting the population, especially children, at greater risk of developing adverse health outcomes, and more likely to suffer from hunger and poor nutrition.

Hunger and food shortages do not recognize borders or nationalities. Issues with our food systems impact the most vulnerable hardest, with ripple effects through every community. The best way to build and maintain food systems that stand up to today’s pressures and feed tomorrow’s growing world is through the application of science.

Combatting Climate Change

Feeding the world without starving the planet is one of the greatest agricultural paradoxes of our time. The good news is agriculture has already shown a remarkable ability to produce more with less. Through embracing climate-smart practices like no-till farming or cover crops to further sequester carbon into the soil, farmers can produce sustainable harvests that minimize the use of arable land. To support these initiatives, Bayer is developing new business models and investing more than $2 billion in R&D annually to ensure farmers have the best tools in their toolbox. We were one of the first companies to develop a transparent, science-based approach to a carbon market. We’re building on that success with ForGround, a digital platform that will evolve beyond carbon offsets to connect farmers with companies seeking to meet their sustainability goals in a variety of ways. These types of programs, among others spearheaded by like-minded companies, help combat climate change through utilizing agricultural tools, rather than leaving them by the wayside.

Climate-smart practices extend beyond company initiatives. Bold investments in innovation, research, and capacity-building through extension services can advance scientific approaches that create food systems resilient to heightened threats from climate change, and develop opportunities for agriculture to become a net carbon sink. Increasing funding around these projects provides progress towards a more efficient and sustainable agriculture system, allowing us to combat climate change with a multisectoral approach.

Fighting Food Loss and Food Waste

Fighting food insecurity should start where the journey of our food begins – on the farm. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, approximately 14 percent of food produced globally is lost between harvest and retail, with the losses climbing to more than 20 percent for fruits and vegetables. For many, food waste leads to hunger. For farmers, it means diminished returns on hard work and investment. For the planet, it means a waste of natural resources like energy and water. 

Initiatives preventing food waste must happen at all stages of production. Whether through government regulations or entrepreneurial developments, solutions need to engage all stakeholders in the food supply chain in order to effectively combat food waste and develop sustainable solutions. Bayer’s Vegetable Seeds business, for example, helps farmers produce nutritious crops and allows for growers to ensure maximum production. This can allow crops like whiter cauliflower to stay ripe in the field without spoiling, improving the appeal to consumers and helping crops, like tomatoes, survive the journey from field to market, ultimately reducing food waste.

Supporting Smallholders

Smallholder farmers, particularly in Africa and Asia, play a significant role in feeding the world. Despite this, half of the 800 million people suffering from hunger are smallholders, primarily women who make invaluable contributions to their communities. This creates a gender imbalance that exacerbates existing disparities between men and women as they relate to hunger and emphasizes the importance of providing smallholders with support.

Programs that help farmers transform their farms into commercially viable and sustainable businesses are a primary example of effective support systems. Providing access to high-quality agricultural inputs, including seeds, drip irrigation technology, and crop protection helps produce safe and nutritious crops that allow smallholders to build capabilities and improve their financial stability. Collaboration with other organizations, such as the International Finance Corporation and Netafim, allows Bayer to tailor input assistance to the needs of smallholder farmers, thereby supporting sustainable food systems that feed smallholder farmers and the growing global population. Together with partners, we must continue to act quickly and collaboratively on seeking better answers and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible for generations to come.

Time for Action

Our food security and sustainability challenges can seem daunting. But I, like all of my colleagues at Bayer, am up for the challenge. We’re committed to investing in innovative solutions and partnerships to help support a healthier population and planet. In the words of Dr. Andrade, “We can’t do everything, but we do whatever we can to reduce the suffering of one or two people.” Let’s do everything we can. 

Dr. Jacqueline (Jackie) Applegate serves as President of Bayer Crop Science North America and is a member of the Global Executive Leadership Team. She holds a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and enjoys cooking, traveling, and spending time with her son, Matthew.

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