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Feeding people, saving Earth

The world globe on a white plate arranged with silverware around it against a white background Devrimb/Getty Images
DUAL PURPOSE: During its Future of Farming Dialogue, Bayer outlined its goals for assisting farmers globally by providing not only nourishment for people, but also sustenance for the earth’s soil.
Bayer shares strategies to move carbon initiative and farming alliance forward.

“I think it is a big challenge that we all face,” said Liam Condon, president of the Bayer Crop Science Division. “How do we feed the world without starving the planet?”

Condon spoke during the Oct. 13 Bayer Future of Farming Dialogue virtual event. He said that no matter what Bayer is involved in, it must be guided by science and facts, and not just by popular opinion. The company is trying to transform the food system to ensure it can be resilient, nutritious and sustainable. The job of agriculture is not only to help feed the world,” he said, “but also be a part of the solution to climate change.”

Bayer is working to find answers. Condon shared the company’s commitment to feeding the world and planet through its products and initiatives during the online event:

Carbon farming. “You want to look after the planet? You want to look after human health? Look after the soil,” Condon said. The company launched its Bayer Carbon Initiative earlier this year. Currently, it is in a pilot phase in the U.S and Brazil with 500,000 acres enrolled.

The initiative looks at ways toward a “carbon-zero future for agriculture,” Condon said. “The idea is to sequester carbon in the soil, which makes the soil more fertile. You’re actually taking greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, and with that, reducing pressure on the planet. So, you’re doing good on multiple fronts. You’re improving the potential productivity on the farm, but you’re also addressing climate change.”

However, the company is going one step further and looking at how to pay farmers for their service to the ecosystem. “This changes the paradigm of farming,” Condon said. “Instead of saying we pay farmers for the crops and the food and the feed that they produce, why don’t we also pay them for the amount of carbon that they sequester in the soil.”

The Bayer Carbon Initiative goal is to allow farmers to sell their carbon credits. However, a certification process to prove the amount of carbon sequestered is still in the works. Condon also admitted that the carbon trading platforms have a way to go before purchasing directly from farmers. Right now, he said, it is geared toward the fossil fuel industry.

Short-stature corn. The company’s Vitala system was recently introduced in Mexico. It consists of a new hybrid corn and agronomic package to help farmers grow more with less.

“We believe this is a game-changing technological approach to producing corn,” Condon said. “This is no longer a pipe dream.”

Farm Progress introduced this idea of short-stature corn in 2019. Short-stature corn takes plant height from 8 feet tall down to around 5 feet. The goal is to have a shorter plant produce the same yield as a taller plant, but with less water or even land.

Support smallholder farms. Last year, Bayer set a goal to help 100 million smallholder farmers by 2030. Today, the company reaches about 40 million, but Condon said it is still only a fraction of the 500 million smallholder farmers around the world.

“They need innovation, but that innovation is different from the innovation in Europe or North America or big farms in Latin America,” he said. “It needs to be adapted to the needs of smallholders.”

Condon said through the company’s Better Life Farming Alliance, Bayer has given away 2 million packages of seeds and crop protection products to smallholder farmers from around the world. He said this year due to the COVID-19 crisis it was needed, but “giving away something is never sustainable.”

“Our goal is to help make smallholder farmers, not only sustainable, but economically viable,” he said, “because then they can sustain their families; they can sustain their local communities.”

Together, they are working on developing a “digital ecosystem,” he said, which includes partners like insurance, finance, irrigation and fertilizer companies to provide insight and market access. This year saw the expansion of support to Indonesia and Bangladesh, and new banking services in India.

“We hope to get societal acceptance for what we do,” Condon said. “Ultimately, what we’re working towards is a more sustainable food system, where finally, we can get healthy, accessible, affordable, safe food for everybody and hunger for nobody.”


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