Innovation for the Agriculture of the Future

Giulia Di Tommaso
President & CEO
CropLife International

By Giulia Di Tommaso, President & CEO CropLife International

At CropLife International, our purpose is to advance innovation in agriculture for a sustainable future and, working with others, to play a leading role in enabling sustainable food systems.

Against the backdrop of the conflict in Ukraine, food security has never been more vital nor our role in supporting access to farm inputs more critical.

With exports in difficulty, prices continue to rise around the globe, causing governments to re-evaluate their existing policies to maintain food security. A case in point is the major shift seen recently in the EU, which postponed a number of measures related to the Green Deal, announced new ones, and joined the US-led coalition for Sustainable Productivity Growth, of which CLI is also a member.

It is imperative now that we champion the role innovation and technologies can play in addressing the paradox of producing more nutritious food for a growing population within planetary boundaries.

Innovation in agriculture is key to ensure access to food by enabling farmers to grow more nutritious food while at the same time reducing emissions, halting biodiversity loss, and improving rural community livelihoods.

First, it is important we note that innovation extends well beyond the boundaries of R&D and specific products. It can include how we structure our organizations, approach partnerships, generate ideas, and optimize our decision-making processes toward a particular outcome.

It can also include how we interact with our customers – both farmers and beyond – in co-creating solutions with them and continuously learning and improving through collaboration and partnerships.

Regardless of the type of innovation, we must look at both near- and long-term impact and efficacy. Innovation ultimately needs to generate positive impact on the natural world and on people.

Innovation for the near term

Specific to our sector, we must focus on innovations that can make agriculture more resilient and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while still allowing farmers to grow more nutritious foods with less resources for a hungry world.

On the product side, for example, scientists are developing even more drought-tolerant and optimized hybrid maize varieties that are vital to the South African economy. These innovations have been the result of years of strong partnerships with private and public institutions in South Africa.

Our industry is also pioneering new seed treatments and coatings to protect crops from pests and diseases to work in concert with improved seed varieties.

Game-changing technology is emerging to help farmers adapt to unpredictable weather and disease. Through digital agriculture, pests can be identified and the best, most precise treatment can be effectively and timely determined.

However, if we look at the scope of the challenges facing us – providing safe, nutritious food to 9 billion people by 2050 – it is clear we must do more beyond just individual product solutions.

To drive the innovations we need requires significant investment and commitment from both the public and private sectors, but also a forward-thinking outlook recognizing that “more of the same” is not going to get us there.

Innovation for the future

CropLife International and the CropLife network is in a unique position to help develop industry-wide innovations – such as commitments, best practices, and ways of working – and champion their implementation.

Along these lines, we should look toward cross-industry models that push us forward on global goals such as zero hunger, nature-positive, carbon neutrality, and respecting and promoting human rights. As well as transformational partnerships that breed new innovation.

For example, through our CropLife International-FAO partnership, we are working together to reduce the effects of pests like fall armyworm, which can have devastating impacts on farmer livelihoods and severely affect food security for vulnerable populations. By sharing information about new plant science innovations and technical expertise, we can work together to identify the most effective tools to mitigate the impact of plant pests.

Working in partnership with others frequently unlocks some of the best ideas and delivers a range of new and exciting innovations, new tools, new technologies, and new solutions to the complex challenges facing agriculture.

We also have the opportunity to go beyond our traditional ways of working and promote industry commitments toward aspirational goals on plant science product usage.

South Africa is a great case study of integrated innovation in agriculture; for example, numerous plant science solutions have been deployed on vineyards to improve productivity while simultaneously enriching biodiversity between the vines and creating local economic opportunities through tourism and wine production.

Responsible innovation

However, we cannot be happy with just innovation – it must be responsible innovation grounded in sound science and good stewardship practices.

Through our stewardship and regulatory programs, CropLife International – in partnership with our CropLife network – leads the way in promoting the responsible use of plant science solutions to help deliver on global sustainability objectives including safe disposal of obsolete stocks, empty container management, and launching our Sustainable Pesticide Management Framework, which equips farmers with technologies and practices to deliver innovative benefits and support climate mitigation and adaptation.

Our member companies are also leaders in responsible innovation. They demonstrate this by evaluating all new innovations in their portfolio through a lens that considers potential for climate change adaptation and mitigation, impact on biodiversity, and productivity potential.

Accessible innovation

Of course, these developments won’t mean anything without availability, accessibility, and adoption. Our collective sustainability challenges are too big to leave any innovative tools or solutions behind, and innovative products that remain on the shelf will never positively impact our food systems.

The challenges before us require all available solutions, including an enabling environment that facilitates open and free trade.

The threat to global food security will not disappear anytime soon; we must have the courage to challenge ourselves and our networks to champion new innovations and new partnerships, and to ensure equitable access to these critical technologies and inputs that move us toward sustainable food systems.

The above text is an abridged version of remarks delivered at CropLife South Africa’s 2022 Crop Conference.