Feeding the Planet – 5 action steps to Sustainable Agriculture (2 of 2)

Monsanto supporting Indian farmers

Part 2 of Feeding the Planet – 5 action steps to Sustainable Agriculture

A quick recap of Part 1 of Feeding the Planet – We  discussed how the world of 9 billion people by 2050 would be needing much more food than we have ever needed in the entire human history. The promise of Genetically Modified crops tackles this challenge head-on. And companies like Monsanto and Dupont are at the cutting edge of Sustainable Agricultural practices. Selection of Proper Goals and Strategic Planning are the first of 2 steps towards feeding the planet. Here are rest of 3:

Monitoring

Monitoring progress helps course correct along the way – and the way to do it is by establishing  progress metric indicators.

Monsanto, for example, has certain indicators – to enhance higher yields and better productivity. What are they:

  • National average crop yields in leading countries
  • And for resource conservation – efficient use of land, water and energy is done through minimization of soil loss and GHG emissions
  • To improve lives of farmers – measuring the net income gains among farmers adopting biotech crops

Jason Clay, Vice President of the Center for Conservation Innovation at World Wide Fund (WWF), believes that…

… focusing on the results rather than techniques is much better way to monitor for the desired results

– let every farmer find the best practice themselves – it may be organic, IPM, conventional, GM, No till or combination of all of these – so that the monitoring process becomes technology neutral and concentration can be on the results.

Third party independent auditors and evaluators can vastly provide credibility to the processes.

Transparent Reporting

Some companies follow the GRI guidelines, while some bring out their own sustainability reports based on internal initiatives – however, transparent reporting does drive constructive change (Blackburn, 2007), forcing companies to identify their sustainability issues and assess the gaps, thereby improving stakeholder relations, protecting the license to operate and having enhanced reputation.

Monsanto’s 2010 Sustainability report focuses on the benefits of using biotechnology in crop production. The company joined the UN Global Compact in 2009 to advance responsible corporate citizenship and is structured around 10 principles relating to human rights, labor practices etc.

As a part of its commitment to improved corporate governance through shareowner and stakeholder dialogue, transparent reporting and independent Board of Directors, Monsanto has taken huge strides in transparency issues.

DuPont has formed an independent Biotechnology Advisory Panel which audits its progress and provides a public report regularly based on its Bio-ethics guiding principles as discussed earlier (DuPont 2010 Sustainability Report).

Communication

Communicating openly about GM crops – both the pros and cons to the respective stakeholders will bring the dialogue to the forefront and address any myths, misconceptions and real challenges head-on.

Question to answer

  • Is the lamb grown in UK more sustainable from GHG perspective than the lamb grown in NZ, frozen and shipped to UK?

The answer depends on variety of factors and any single performance standard will not work, due to the heterogeneous nature of policies and frameworks around agriculture in different countries.

Forcing standards – like organic or GM etc. will only bring compliance and in the process, kills innovation (Aspen Ideas Festival 2010 – Michael Specter, Hugh Grant, Jason Clay)

What’s next

Agriculture is the largest business in the world and has the largest environmental impact (World Agriculture and Environment, WWF).

Inefficient food production and harmful agriculture subsidies are causing deforestation, water shortages, and pollution and…

…the world needs more food in the next 40 years than we have ever needed in the last 10,000 years

– it also needs to use more than 300 million acres of fresh farmlands to grow that food on, if we are to barely satisfy that demand.

GM crops have attempted to tackle those challenges, but has met with resistance – mainly due to being a relatively new and untested technology that can spread to non-GM crops.

Stats speak and the options!

However, global planting of biotech crops has increased by 10% in the last year, continuing on the steady growth of the past decade (Reuters, Feb 22, 2011). The five principal developing countries growing biotech crops – China, India, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa – planted 63 million hectares of biotech crops in 2010, equivalent to 43 per cent of the global total and 19 of the 29 countries that have adopted biotech crops are developing nations (Economic Times, Feb25, 2011). 

So, what are the options – deforestation and using up virgin lands are not feasible either.

Sustainable agriculture has no easy answers. As of today, GM crops present an opportunity as the lesser of the many evils.

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