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Peter Ford

President Asia Pacific, Corteva Agriscience

Asian smallholder farmers produce the bulk of the world’s food, yet most live in poverty. Access to improved agricultural technologies could alleviate poverty and reverse the climate crisis.

According to the UN, by 2050 the global population will exceed 9.7 billion. Given the anticipated growing impact of the climate crisis, feeding this increased population is the biggest challenge we face today.

But it can be done, according to Peter Ford, President Asia Pacific, Corteva Agriscience: “We can start to reverse the effects of climate change through agriculture. At the same time, increase food productivity, lift people out of poverty and safely produce more nutritious food.”

Enhancing sustainable practices

An ecological crisis is fast emerging. While food insecurity is on the rise globally, the climate crisis poses a formidable threat to food security for all of us. Ford argues that agriculture can be part of solution in combating the climate crisis: “Agriculture can contribute to climate resilience. Tools and technologies exist today to reverse the effects of climate change, if we can get these in front of farmers, that will make a real difference.”

This system will help reduce water consumption by 37% and greenhouse gases by 20 to 30%.

Public private partnerships yielding greater food security

Asia’s smallholder farmer community is fragmented and diverse, making access to finance, training and equipment difficult. To improve food security, Corteva is partnering with governments and NGOs to address the specific barriers farmers face, such as mechanisation or access to agricultural technologies which raise crop productivity and profitability.

For example, in Indonesia, the company is training farmers on the benefits and techniques of hybrid corn seed growing. On Madura Island, off East Java alone, almost 20,000 farmers have switched from local seed varieties to hybrid corn seeds. These farmers have increased yields by 130% and incomes by 247%.

“In India, Corteva has joined forces with the Water Resources Group (backed by World Bank) to change the cropping system in Uttar Pradesh,” Ford continues. “Heavily water dependent flooded paddy rice farming produces significant greenhouse gas emissions, so we are helping farmers to move from paddy fields to a direct seeded system. This system will help reduce water consumption by 37% and greenhouse gases by 20 to 30%.”

Agriculture as a catalyst for socio- economic progress

The inequalities are particularly acute in Asia Pacific. “Of the world’s 500 million smallholder farmers, 87% reside in Asia Pacific, producing 80% of the world’s food,” says Ford. “The majority of them are living on less than $2 a day.”

Ford holds the cause close to his heart. Brought up on a small farm in Australia he experienced first hand the calamitous effects of drought. “It was character building,” he says. “It made me realise transformational changes can be made for farmers and local communities and at the same time enhance food security globally.”

He continues, “I once spent a day with an Indian farmer called Raj. He had a small but very well-run farm. Late in the day, we were sipping tea in his two-room house. He told me the second room was actually an extension to the first, built from the extra income he gained after access to motorised transport, healthcare and rudimentary mechanised machines. But by far the biggest change new technologies had bought for this family was when one of his children had the opportunity for university education, in Canada. And it was his daughter – something unimaginable just a generation ago.”

Indeed, the cause of helping women farmers is extremely important to Ford – although men still own most of the land, about 50% of the farmers are women. “It’s a tremendous challenge” he says. “But it’s crucial we address it. Equitable access for women farmers would increase productivity up to 4% and lift 100 to 150 million people out of poverty. That’s got to be a good place to start.”

This article was originally published in the World Food Day campaign, distributed in the Guardian on 16th September 2021

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