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COVID-19 creates opportunity to broaden support for ag tech

A scientist holding a test tube with a leaf and DNA strands layered above
EMBRACE TECH: The rush to find a vaccine for COVID-19 has created a new appreciation for the power of science to solve pressing problems; perhaps it can broaden support for ag technology, too.
The search for a COVID-19 vaccine has created new appreciation for the power of science.

The rush to find effective treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 has created new appreciation for the power of science to solve some of our most pressing problems. That appreciation creates an opening to broaden the discussion about the additional ways science and technology are addressing challenges across food and agriculture.

Gene editing is the next iteration of genetic technology that can help farmers be more resilient, grow food in our changing climate and help livestock producers prevent disease. The same technology is being used to create impressive new human treatments for cancer, sickle cell disease and other maladies that cause suffering and death.

Now is the time to connect the dots between the technology that creates powerful new tools in human medicine and how those same tools are being used to improve the food we need and use fewer natural resources.

We can dramatically improve our ability to introduce technological solutions in food and agriculture by embracing these three simple concepts:

1. Benefits. It’s not about the technology, it’s about the benefits the technology delivers. Debating the technology is a losing proposition. Focus your time and energy on introducing the many ways the technology benefits consumers, society, farmers and the environment.

The benefits need to be relevant to your stakeholders. Enhancing efficiency and productivity may be relevant to bankers and shareholders, while reducing environmental impact is important to consumers and civil society.

Frequently, improving productivity reduces environmental impact, so aligning the benefits by stakeholder can broaden support.

2. Transparency. Be transparent. Open a dialogue and invite anyone interested to engage in the discussion. Be open about risks and tradeoffs as well as benefits. Authentic transparency is the most effective strategy to build trust.

3. Engagement. Engagement is a process, not an event. “How many times do I have to tell you?” may be a frequent rhetorical question from parents and teachers. While the exact answer may be elusive, it is always more than one.

Each of us is bombarded with more information than we can process every day. An effective and sustained engagement strategy is the only way break through the clutter and build support in today’s influencer-dominated environment.

 Stakeholder engagement is a marathon, not a sprint. Build your strategy and plan to go the distance if you want to be successful in building support for your technology.

Shared values are the foundation for building trust. Technology is values-neutral, but your brand is not. You can build trust in your technology by aligning the values of your company and the technology with the values of stakeholders who shape consumer trust.

Arnot is CEO of the Center for Food Integrity, a not-for-profit organization that helps today’s food system earn consumer trust.

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