Advancing Innovation in Agriculture for Climate Impact

Emily Rees
Emily Rees, President & CEO
7 min read -

Adapted from remarks delivered by CropLife International President & CEO Emily Rees during the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM4C) Summit in Washington, DC.

The food challenge: overcoming the gender gap and a changing climate to drive innovation to feed people, protect livelihoods and the planet

We gather here this week with a shared purpose: to build sustainable food systems that feed the world.

We are here because we need food systems that are both less wasteful and more productive, and which enable farmers to keep 1.5°C within reach thanks to mitigation practices, while also providing them with the tools to adapt to a heating planet.

We need systems that are fair for farmers and their communities, that are inclusive and supportive, regardless of geography or gender.

But there are many challenges before us.

Agriculture will play a key role in the success or failure of our common ability to implement the Sustainable Development Goals and deliver on the Nationally Determined Contributions laid out by the Paris Agreement.

Agriculture contributes to the health of populations and provides the raw materials to decarbonize our economies. But agriculture’s fundamental role continues to be providing food security to humanity.

The number of people facing life-threatening hunger jumped by a third to about a quarter of a billion last year, with supplies of staple crops remaining tight as the El Niño weather phenomenon further threatens output in key regions.

Boosting food security and resilience is not a ‘nice to have,’ but an urgent ‘must have.’

Countries are unequal when it comes to risks relating to pests and disease. Climate change alters the behaviour of pests, their intensity, and geographical distribution, making outbreaks less predictable, causing massive crop losses, and threatening the livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable farmers.

And the FAO’s recent report on the status of women in agriculture, served to remind us of the struggles women face, such as irregular and labour-intensive working conditions and limited access to land, inputs and financial services, in our food systems and in our world.

It is alarming to read that if we were able to close the gender gap in farm productivity and the wage gap in agrifood systems, global gross domestic product would increase by 1 percent — or nearly $1 trillion.

This in turn would reduce global food insecurity by about 2 percentage points, reducing the number of food-insecure people by 45 million.

When women are empowered — when they have access to finance and innovation — they look past just the needs of their family. They understand the invaluable contribution they are making to society and the environment.

Like all of you in this room, I believe that when we work together, we can find solutions that are inclusive and empowering for all people.

Empowerment through innovative technology

Farmers need access to tools that enable them to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report, recognizes the critical role of innovation in addressing the challenges facing the agricultural sector. The report calls for more climate-resilient crops and livestock, for improvements in water management, as well as an increase in crop and livelihood diversification.

As business leaders, we know plant science technologies help farmers and our food systems adapt to and mitigate climate change. They improve agricultural productivity and deliver food security.

Our industry is committed to researching and developing technologies that support climate-smart agriculture, to reduce and avoid emissions, and increase carbon sequestration to keep 1.5° C within reach.

Innovations in seed technology, like herbicide tolerance and improved weed control, have already resulted in over 300 million tonnes of CO2 sequestration over the past 25 years. That’s the equivalent of the annual emissions of the state of California.

And with the exciting development of genome editing, plant breeders have the potential to develop seed varieties that can increase the efficiency of carbon capture, provide resistance to pests and pathogens, and even accelerate the domestication of new crop species.

We must work together — governments, business, and civil society — to ensure farmers have access to innovations that can spur transformative change.

We must equip farmers, large and small, with the knowledge and tools they need to build the foundations of truly sustainable food systems.

The IPCC report is also clear: we need policies and an institutional framework that supports innovation in agriculture to tackle climate change.

Farmers face the immense challenge to produce more nutritious food using fewer resources and under less predictable growing patterns.

Plant science technologies such as innovative crop protection, digital and precision agriculture support farmers to mitigate and adapt to climate change while boosting protection of natural resources and improving productivity.

Empowerment in agricultural innovation for climate resilience through investment

We know that to accelerate systematic change in global food systems, we need to come together to deliver seismic investment in sustainable agriculture.

I would like to congratulate the United States and United Arab Emirates for launching the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate initiative: 50 government partners and 51 Innovation Sprints and counting, all working to deliver change!

CropLife International is proud to be one of the first Innovation Sprint Partners.

With $13 million invested over five years, our Sustainable Pesticide Management Framework (SPMF) is accelerating the access and uptake of climate-smart crop protection innovations for smallholder farmers in Asia and Africa.

After only one year it is already delivering impact.

In Kenya, together with partners, we have worked to protect human health and safeguard the environment by listening to farmers to understand their needs; to increase their access to affordable personal protective equipment; to build their capacity to ensure a proper use of crop protection; and to provide innovations that enrich farmers’ toolboxes and improve their climate resiliency.

SPMF not only focuses on farmer training and stewardship, but also on building capacity across the value chain to unlock access to critical farm innovations where they are most needed.

Ours, and the many other inspiring contributions, are making a difference to support local sustainable food systems. The success of these initiatives is founded upon our ability to work and invest across borders, building alliances internationally.

We need to work towards a fair global trading system.

Food today is produced along global value chains — one third of agricultural commodities cross borders at least twice, and the number of countries depending on imports is growing fast.

We need policies that enable and facilitate trade. Transparent and science-driven standards developed by governments are relied upon by farmers and traders around the world to ensure an equitable and non-discriminatory trading system.

Now more than ever, we need to work towards harmonizing the international regulatory frameworks to improve access to plant science innovation for every region, regardless of nationality, and for every person, regardless of gender.

Farmers need to produce more nutritious food with fewer resources, and under less predictable growing conditions. Their role in tackling climate change is undeniable. It demands investment in leadership, education, training, and health to co-create regulation that sparks innovation to build resilience.

Innovation that is accessible to everyone.

In Sharm-el-Sheikh, at COP27, we agreed to respond to the impact of climate change on food insecurity, to enhance cooperation, and to increase access to finance and technology.

I commend the AIM4C initiative for helping us deliver on these commitments.

For CropLife International, whose purpose is to advance innovation in agriculture, AIM4C is enabling us to collaborate to mobilize resources, scale up support, and share knowledge to accelerate climate action. And we continue to meet new partners and expand our own knowledge.

As we head to COP28, we must build on this momentum. Together, we must continue to drive progress. We must build, consolidate, and strengthen the alliances we have made, and programmes we are delivering.

Thank you for your leadership and count on us to support you on this journey.