May 24, 2013

Live Blog - Leveraging science for agriculture at the ground level

By Keron Bascombe from Trinidad 

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs hosted its Global Food Security Symposium on “Capitalizing the Power of Science, Trade and Business to End Hunger and Poverty”. The organizers have brought together numerous experts from around the world, all working towards hunger and poverty issues as sustainable change agents.

The first panel of this morning’s event asked introductory questions of the esteemed members of the panel. The group consisted of Barbara Schaal, Brett Begemann, Cutberto Garza, Rob Horsch, Mauricio Antonio Lopes, Lindiwe Majele Sibanda and Ren Wang.The most memorable question was posed to Dr. Lindiwe Majele Sibanda: “How should agri-research be adopted to aid smallholder farmers?”

Her answer began with the need for smallholder farmers to first define a goal for themselves; where do they see themselves in 10 years? This should lead initial engagement between scientists, researchers and producers. After this conclusion the next step is to identify what resources are available to farmers.

Previous research and technical assistance provided by scientists, extension officers and other stakeholders are key. Furthermore, the positive effect of agri-research on smallholder farmers can only occur with multidisciplinary teams to engage farmers with problems affecting their livelihood base.

However, one major problem is overlooked. Is the national agenda of developing states geared towards farming/agriculture? For many developing countries this is not the case. Though the importance of agriculture and all of its stakeholders was stressed at today’s Symposium, many governments still lack a full understanding of the significance of food security and threat of hunger.

Simultaneously, the private sector is expected to play a larger positive role for small farmers, yet it has its own goals for monopolizing the farm input market.. These are the real issues of small developing states and smallholder farmers.

This structure exists within the livelihoods of many small farmers especially in small islands or developing states. Farmers accept this premise, just as they accept the risks in their operations. However, if farmers were aware of the benefit that research and collaboration of stakeholder efforts for the industry can provide, they would welcome the support.

Dr. Mauricio Antonio Lopes of Brazil commennted on this issue and agreed, using his home country as a leading example. In 1970 Brazil, known as a major coffee producer, imported all of its staples: rice, beans and milk. However, over a forty year period Brazil became self-sufficient, multiplying their agricultural output sixfold. An important factor in this drastic change was due to government decision. Having recognized the need for agriculture, efforts were made to work with policy makers, researchers and farmers in order to bring new sustainability and stability to their agricultural system, thereby ensuring food security.

Dr. Lopes also commented on the strategy of building the capacity of youth as young researchers in agricultural science, while at the same time leveraging the private sector to ensure the development of science based agricultural systems. He reiterated “We must work with (small holders), policy makers and government in order to bring new concepts of sustainable agriculture (based on scientific enquiry) into being”.

Keron Bascombe is a blogger and freelance writer and the principle author of tech4agri blog


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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