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Engineers Committed to Global Food Security – Conference Highlights Ag Innovations
By: Ann Steensland, Deputy Director, Global Harvest Initiative
Agricultural and biological engineers around the world are developing technologies and practices that make agriculture and food systems more productive and sustainable.
In October, 2016, engineers from six continents gathered in Stellenbosch, South Africa, for the Engineering and Technology Innovation for Global Food Security conference. Co-hosted by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) and Stellenbosch University, the conference featured examples of how engineers, and the innovations they create, are improving agricultural productivity and food security. His Excellency Patrick Gaspard, U.S. ambassador to South Africa, opened the conference. In his remarks, Ambassador Gaspard recognized the important role that technologies such as improved seed varieties have made in the productivity of farmers throughout Africa.
Conference participants shared their innovations for improving smallholder productivity, including mechanization technologies, water management tools, post-harvest loss reduction and food distribution and logistics. The conference also considered the role of innovation in food system function and stability.
Enabling Policy Environment Essential for Innovation
One of the key findings of the conference was how important public policies and public sector investments are to the development of agricultural innovations, especially solutions tailored for resource-poor farmers working at smaller scales. Global Harvest Initiative and ASABE organized a side session to explore the policies and innovations needed for productive sustainable food systems. The session featured a presentation of GHI’s 2016 Global Agricultural Productivity Report® (GAP Report®) by Ann Steensland, Deputy Director of GHI. The GAP Report® focuses on five policy areas for productive sustainable food systems: investing in agricultural R&D and extension, embracing science-based and information technologies, enhancing private sector involvement in agricultural and infrastructure development, fostering capacity for regional and global trade and cultivating partnerships for sustainable growth.
Three of GHI’s Member Companies made presentations:
- Andrew Bennett, Technology Development Lead-Asia-Africa for Monsanto Company spoke about the BioAg Alliance, a collaboration between two GHI Member Companies, Monsanto and Novozymes. The Alliance is developing bio innovations to enhance crop yield and fertility using enzyme technologies.
- Tony Esmeraldo, Commercial Lead-South Africa for DuPont Pioneer described a tool developed by Dupont to help policymakers identify policy solutions for improving food security and nutrition. The Global Food Security Index, produced by The Economist Intelligence Unit and funded exclusively by DuPont, tracks a variety of indicators that reveal how countries are progressing towards their food security and nutrition goals.
- Andre Westerveld, General Manager for Sub-Saharan Africa for Elanco Animal Health, reported that 20 percent of livestock, globally, are lost to disease, one of the least appreciated forms of food waste that has a significant impact on people’s nutrition and livelihoods. Elanco is promoting One Health, a paradigm that emphasizes innovations and practices to improve the health of people, animals and the environment.
Also on the panel was John George, President and CEO of Agricultural Engineering Associates, President and CEO who described some of the 6,000+ projects that Ag Engineering Associates has undertaken over the years to improve the sustainability and productivity of farming. Maynard Harron spoke on behalf of AGCO and explained the company’s “future farm” project in Zambia designed to give small-scale farmers access to knowledge and productivity-enhancing inputs. Dr. Stephanie Midgley, Project Manager and author of the Western Cape Climate Change Response Framework outlined the innovations and investments needed from the public and private sectors to help Western Cape farmers, of all scales, adapt to and help mitigate climate change.
Engineers are on the “front-lines” of agricultural innovation and the conference showcased dozens of ways engineers are making a difference in global food security. Yet, the attendees also recognized that innovation does not happen in a vacuum. Governments have a critical role to play in creating an enabling environment for the development of technologies to improve food and nutrition security.