Agriculture's challenge to produce enough food for a 9.1-billion human population is daunting enough. But as Bayer CropScience CEO Sandra Peterson noted yesterday in her World Agricultural Forum keynote address, "I urge regulators on both sides of the Atlantic to seize this unique opportunity to deal with issues of sustainable and productive agriculture, infrastructure, and with the challenge of small-scale farming."
Peterson is more than familiar with agriculture on both sides of the Atlantic. Born in Westchester County, N.Y., she earned a bachelor's degree in government at Cornell University and a Masters in applied economics from Princeton University. As a young girl, she experienced cow milking and snow shoveling on New York and Vermont farms. Today, she heads the Germany-based CropSciences division of Bayer.
In her remarks, Peterson noted that global food security is only possible with innovation, more attention to the needs of smallholder farms and the food chain. Food demand and the food chain will change markedly between now and 2050, according to United Nations findings.
World human populations will grow from the current 7 billion to about 9.1 billion by 2050. And 62% of those people will be living in Africa, southern Asia and eastern Asia, where food availability is already a major concern.
Peterson called for further reduction of international trade barriers, and a regulatory environment that facilitates trade flows and the transfer of technology and know-how. She told attendees at the forum in Brussels, Belgium, that the private sector is ready to be a partner and driver of solutions for sustainable agriculture. Partnership and collaboration are integral to address global food security for all.
"These challenges can be solved only by connecting the dots and working across the entire food value chain," she added. Bayer CropScience is already positioned for this role through its commitment in driving productivity of the world's two most important staple crops, wheat and rice. An agreement early this week with South Dakota State University go wheat breeding and germplasm access adds to its other collaborative agreements in Australia, France, Israel, Romania and the Ukraine.
One goal is to build a premier wheat breeding platform to strengthen the crop's tolerance to drought and disease, plus improve nutrient uptake and yields. However, she noted that such innovation can make a substantial contribution to addressing global food security challenges only with the appropriate regulatory and political frameworks in place.
"Our industry is not concerned that we might run out of innovative ideas to safeguard crops," she stressed. "But we are concerned about the regulatory and political obstacles on the last mile to the market. Fostering a regulatory climate that facilitates trade flows, as well as the transfer of technology and know-how is of the essence.
Noting that both the European Union and the United States are concurrently negotiating their respective farming policies, she pointed out that even a modest amount of harmonized reduction of trade barriers by these two trading blocs would have a positive impact on the economic development of poorer nations.