Small farmers called key to fight against climate change

Bayer president says the world’s ‘smallholder’ producers can make a difference by sequestering carbon in their soil

The smallest farmers might be the key to successfully using agriculture to fight climate change, Bayer Crop Science president Liam Condon said in a recent presentation.

So many millions of “smallholder” farmers have so much improvement with their farming that the gains could be huge.

“We believe agriculture can actually be part of the solution to climate change,” said Condon in a presentation to the company’s Future of Farming Dialogue.

“It’s one of the few industries in the entire world where you have the possibility to sequester carbon, and sequester it in the soil.”

Modern crop management employing sophisticated machinery, chemicals, variety selection, agronomy and data-based management can greatly improve farming efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.

But that integrated approach isn’t employed by tens of millions of smallholder farmers across the world because they don’t have the tools, training or money it requires.

Bayer, Condon said, is focusing on changing that.

“They really need our support,” he said.

“It needs to be adapted to the needs of smallholders.”

One of the developments Bayer has been lauding during the Future of Farming Dialogue is short-stature corn, which is designed to be much easier for smallholders to manage and tougher in the face of bad weather.

Conventional corn is so tall it requires more intensive and machinery-dependent management, which is difficult or impossible for many smallholders.

But short stature corn, which is the height of other crops, can be managed from the ground and is also much more resistant to lodging, which is a major yield-loss problem.

Short-stature corn is being test-grown in Brazil and will be in the U.S. soon. Other parts of the world will follow, the company says.

For its integrated approach to smallholder farming, incorporating all the main techniques of sophisticated production employed in developed and capital-rich economies, Bayer is relying upon the Better Life Farming initiative, of which it is a driving force.

It aims to provide “holistic and innovative solutions enabling smallholders to build commercially viable and sustainable farming businesses.”

Carbon capture and “social impact” are elements of the approach, as well as improving yields, production stability and profitability.

Without combining financial gains with environmental and social gains, the approach won’t work.

“Our goal is to help make smallholder farmers not only sustainable but economically viable, and to make them members of a vibrant economy because then they can sustain their local communities, and we will for sure have a much longer sustainable relationship,” said Condon.

Bayer’s approach to carbon sequestration and other environmental benefits from better farming will be familiar to Canadian farmers. It is focused on seeing farmers rewarded for offering “environmental goods and services.”

The company hopes to document carbon sequestration by farmers and then sell carbon credits on an exchange. That system isn’t completed yet, but Bayer is trying to develop it, Condon said.

Many companies talk about climate change and environmental responsibility, but Condon said Bayer isn’t just talking.

“It’s absolutely core to our business,” said Condon,

“What we’re ultimately trying to do is to transform the food system, to make sure that the food system overall can be more resilient and more nutritious at the same time, but of course more sustainable,” said Condon.

“This is the big challenge we face: how do we feed the world without starving the planet?”

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