Building Strong Partnerships for a Healthy Food Supply
As Global Manager for Bayer ForwardFarming, I know firsthand the importance of partnership. It is the guiding foundation on which we’ve built the global ForwardFarming network, a platform for knowledge exchange united by a shared commitment to demonstrating best agricultural practices from many perspectives, covering productivity, environmental and social concerns.
On the occasion of Bayer’s 15th appearance at Fruit Logistica, where we highlight successful food chain partnerships, I met with Stephan Brunner, Key Relations Manager for Food Chain Partnership at the Crop Science division of Bayer, to get his perspective on the importance of partnerships in agriculture, what makes partnerships effective and what he’s most excited about for Fruit Logistica 2019 and beyond.
Interview with Stephan Brunner
Klaus Kirsch: Why are strong partnerships critical to addressing the challenges of modern agriculture and safeguarding the food supply chain?
Global Manager, Bayer ForwardFarming
Stephan Brunner: We, as Bayer, offer many innovations and solutions in seed, crop protection and digital technology, but we also realize that no single person or organization has all the answers for the many needs and challenges of food production. Across the value chain, there are myriad questions and areas that need to be covered, solutions to be found – we can’t do it alone. Strong collaboration means we’re focused on working with partners, NGOs, farmers and other stakeholders to identify and develop tools, services and technologies that add value to food companies, traders, processors, and retailers. It’s not one size fits all.
KK: How does Bayer’s Food Chain Partnership support farmers in being more sustainable, profitable and productive? And how does the Bayer ForwardFarming initiative enhance this effort and help foster partnerships at a local level?
Across the value chain, there are myriad questions and areas that need to be covered, solutions to be found – we can’t do it alone.
SB: We work in all kinds of environments, geographies and farms. We’re seeing innovations and strong partnerships across the board, from smallholder farms in Asia and Africa to mid-size and large farms in Europe, North America and South America. With Food Chain Partnership, we take a strong project management approach to these partnerships – from building relationships and orchestrating the planning phase, to defining goals and developing and implementing solutions. What we do, in one respect, is linked to cyclical, local and tangible action in the field: we are dealing with crops, seasons, planting periods – it’s not just about a “quick win.” At the same time, it involves having strong global relationship management with our food chain partners in place to ensure deep community and network building.
From a Food Chain Partnership perspective, we work with ForwardFarming quite a lot. I’m a huge fan and go to the farms once a month, particularly in Europe. ForwardFarming provides not only a good meeting place to introduce and show relevant food chain stakeholders tangible examples of sustainable farming in practice and the many measures already being implemented, but also to hear and learn from them directly. These dialogues help to generate a “down-to-earth” focus. The farms also support advocacy, allowing us to show the public how modern farming respects the environment and employs sustainable practices.
KK: What are the main focus areas of Bayer’s Food Chain Partnership? What recent examples of beneficial partnerships and innovations across the food chain are you most excited about?
SB: We link partners across the value chain to optimize for best quality – looking at how to improve cultivation, which varieties to select, how to optimize yield, harvest, and more. Trade enabling is also an important focus. When it comes to crop protection, we have to ensure farmers are using the right products so that their produce can be traded without violating trade regulations and import tolerances. Another focus area is farmer capacity-building. We are trying to bring added value in the form of technical and agronomical information and good agronomic practices. This also has to do with continuous improvement of quality across the whole production process. To gain certifications, for example, farmers must follow specific guidelines, so they need expertise in specific areas. We have developed training programs like BayGAP to support farmers gaining these skills and improve how their farm performs.
Fruit Logistica is a good example of how we showcase the work we’re doing and present initiatives where we are involved. We bring together experts and external partners to show examples of effective partnerships that benefit the entire value chain. This year at our booth we will host Netafim, an Israeli company and global leader in irrigation technology that is providing innovative irrigation solutions to farmers of all sizes (also part of the Better Life Farming Alliance). We will show how Bayer and Netafim are partnering in different ways to benefit primarily farmers and the food supply chain, as well as our own initiatives. For example, Netafim equipment has been installed on ForwardFarms in Belgium and the Netherlands. In Smallholder Farming we are building up confidence in local farming communities by creating market linkages with food chain partners along the value chain.
KK: Is NGO engagement a focus?
SB: NGO engagement is very important. We focus on connecting with NGOs that engage and actively support activities to improve cropping, quality and trading of crops across the globe, to not only lift up the sector but also to facilitate exports and increase the traceability of produce.
ForwardFarming provides not only a good meeting place to introduce and show relevant food chain stakeholders tangible examples of sustainable farming in practice and the many measures already being implemented, but also to hear and learn from them directly.
KK: This year’s theme for Fruit Logistica is “Connect to Change.” Can you share what that idea means to you?
SB: From a Bayer perspective, Fruit Logistica is an opportunity to engage not only with the many attendees, but also with colleagues coming from across the globe to Berlin. It’s a chance for us to learn from each other and find new ways to foster our partnership approach in order to continue to deliver more value across the food chain. More broadly, I think the theme is about connecting the dots across the value chain. A lot of partners and companies will be at the event. It’s an important forum to be present, to speak up, to share our perspectives.
We will also showcase ForwardFarming’s first interactive 360° virtual tour of Hof ten Bosch farm in Belgium. This in-depth view into the innovative and sustainable farming measures being practiced at Hof ten Bosch will allow us to connect with an even more diverse audience and bring people from all around the world to the farm – virtually!
KK: Bayer’s presence at this year’s Fruit Logistica is focused on Latin America, and specifically Brazil. Are there any existing initiatives in LATAM that you’d like to highlight?
SB: We’ve been working on traceability, engaging farmers to document farm activities, which allows produce to be traced back to their field and demonstrates that produce was grown with the right agronomic practices. We’re also engaging with export associations, enabling more Brazilian produce to be exported globally. Lastly, we focus on partnerships in the local retail sector with an emphasis on traceability linked with good agronomic practices. In Brazil, we use a certification support program approach called Valore that we implement in partnership with value chain stakeholders. It’s a joint approach to lift up local farmers and help them connect to local retail or export markets.
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