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World Food Day 2019

Plant science offers sustainable solutions to help beat hunger

iStock / Getty Images Plus / dmbaker

Craig Rickard

Executive Director, CropLife International

Progress toward alleviating hunger has been an uphill battle. Innovation is helping but that momentum needs to continue if Zero Hunger is to be realised by 2030. Agricultural innovation, like plant biotechnology and crop protection, must be part of the sustainable solution set to eliminate debilitating hunger and undernourishment for a growing global population.

Hunger is a complex problem which must be solved urgently. The number of undernourished people has dropped by almost half in the past two decades[1], but there are still more than 800 million people around the world without adequate food.

There is not a single solution that will deliver global food security, however, sustainable innovations in plant science – both in plant biotech and crop protection – can make a significant impact.

A recent study[2] looked at the global burden of pests on wheat, rice, maize, potato and soybean – which make up a large proportion of global calorie intake. It found annual losses to be 21.5, 30.0, 22.5, 17.2 and 21.4% per crop respectively.

Solving the devastation of fall armyworm

The fall armyworm (FAW) is one such devastating pest. First detected in Africa in 2016, it has since spread throughout sub-Saharan Africa and into Asia – threatening the food security and livelihoods of millions of small-scale farmers. Without control measures, the pest can reduce maize yields by as much as 50%.

Our industry is well placed to provide sustainable solutions, as insecticides are one of the few proven and effective tools to manage FAW, but to serve farmers effectively we must work together. For instance, CropLife Africa Middle East recently engaged with USAID’s Feed the Future project in Ethiopia[3] to train farmers in FAW identification and responsible control.

Insect-resistant biotech crops are another tool used successfully across North and South America, and latterly in South Africa, in effectively managing the FAW pest. Though cultivation of biotech crops remains prohibited across most of Africa, denying farmers access to this potentially useful tool.

Innovation needs to reach farmers

Agriculture has always been at the cutting edge of innovation and it’s the threat of pests like FAW that drives our industry to invest heavily into sustainable solutions for farmers.

Through innovation, our plant scientists are developing pesticides that are ever safer, more targeted[4] and have less impact on the environment. They are also developing biotech crops that are tolerant to climate stresses and biofortified foods that translate directly into hunger and nutrition benefits.

But farmers need access to these solutions. We need a regulatory environment to support innovations and collaborations across the public and private sectors to help deliver them to farmers responsibly.

Food must be available to those who need it, and farmers must have available solutions to achieve zero hunger by 2030.

[1] [2] [3] [4]

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