Producing a secure agricultural future
15 of November 2022
President Biden’s recent address to the 27th annual Conference of the Parties (COP) in Sharm el-Sheikh re-emphasized key national priorities – clean energy, climate smart agriculture. These remain at the center of the United States Government’s approach to building resilient environmental and economic systems in the years to come. Food security is an important element of these efforts and COP27 has served as a timely reminder of the increasing vulnerability of global agricultural systems. The Food and Agriculture Pavilion organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) at COP27 identified a suite of thematic areas that address the specific challenges faced by agriculture today. In the context of the US, each of these offers an opportunity to understand the evolving needs of farming communities and crossovers among federal agencies and private organizations.
Sustainable and inclusive food systems rely on the ability of decision makers to work across silos and address the largest cross-section of human and environmental needs. But first, innovations in the private sector need to be translated into tangible field-level outcomes in ways that complement and reinforce the federal government’s commitment to the net-zero emissions paradigm.
While the practice of innovation is intertwined with the objective of generating agricultural solutions, there is now a need for these efforts to be based in local agronomic contexts. This is especially important considering the findings of the Global Agricultural Productivity (GAP) Report (2022) which illustrates an undeniable decline in the productivity of global food systems. The manifestations of these trends are visible closer to home, where farmers in Virginia have reported losses to their corn and bean crops caused by drought in addition which a growing number of farmers across the states of Iowa, Illinois and Michigan have reported instances of soybean pest infestations necessitating intensified pesticide application. Climate smart technologies for agriculture would therefore need to account for the diverse impacts of climate change on agricultural production and be suitably customized to attend to the needs of farmers who inhabit ecologically distinct locales. There is also a simultaneous need for these solutions to be multidimensional in their applications. An important example of this is the farm-scale production of biochar.
Is biochar technological wizardry? Not really – it’s just your good old dose of science.
As a compound that serves as both a fertilizer and soil ameliorant with markedly high moisture retention capabilities, biochar is a solution that is slowly but surely spreading its roots in American agriculture. The reason it is appealing as a climate-smart technological solution owes to its ability to satisfy many of the priority criteria identified by international organizations such as the FAO and federal agencies like the USDA. Carbon stewardship, water use efficiency, soil fertility and smallholder innovation are all areas that have responded positively to the adoption of biochar in recent times.
If made available more widely, similar farm-scale solutions can showcase the power of technology to better serve the objective of food security and construct resilient agricultural foundations across the nation. The only viable path forward is to co-produce solutions with the active input of those who know the soil best – farmers.