The Challenges of Tropical AgricultureCovering almost 40% of the world’s agricultural area, according to FAO data, the tropics bear huge responsibility in ensuring food supply to a growing world population. Dirceu Ferreira Jr., head of Bayer’s Expertise Center for Tropical Agriculture (CEAT) in Brazil, discusses the importance of agriculture in the tropics and its challenges.
We know that Agriculture as a whole faces many challenges today. But why does tropical agriculture deserve special attention?
Dirceu Ferreira Jr. - The main reason is that tropical countries are among those that contribute most to meet the global demand for food. Why? Because in most of these areas the weather enables high productivity and allows for more than one harvest a year in some cases, such as in Brazil, where you can plant winter corn after a soybean crop, and even cotton in certain regions.
But not everything is gold, tropical agriculture also faces obstacles, right?
DFJ - Without a doubt, and the challenges are exacerbated by pressure of pests, diseases, and weeds. In the snowy or low temperature periods in temperate countries, the climate itself does the control: The invading species do not develop and pests or diseases die. In a tropical region, meanwhile, the environment is conducive for them to be active most of the year. This puts a huge burden on crop protection technologies, because if they are not used correctly, there may be resistance to the active ingredients or chemical groups that are in use.
And is resistance something that has kept farmers in the tropics awake at night?
DFJ - It has. Farmers’ fear is, sometimes; that they will be unable determine the level of control they need, which can result in a drop in productivity. Fleabane (Conyza bonariensis) and sourgrass (Digitaria insularis) are examples of weeds that have developed resistance to herbicides and become an issue. Studies indicate that resistant weeds may compromise up to 70% of soybean yield, causing considerable financial loss to farmers.
But how does resistance develop?
DFJ - Basically, a chemical group may work very well for one type of control today, but when there is product rotation, a few disease, pests or weeds may become resistant to it. This is an ordinary process in nature. But the risk is higher in tropical regions due to the need for a more intense use of crop protection products.
With this risk in mind, it is even more important to take care of the technologies that are already available, right?
DFJ - Yes, it is essential to ensure Life Cycle Management, keeping resistance from eroding the efficiency of products that, at times, take a decade to be launched. And one of the industry’s jobs is develop management approaches to determine the proper application volume and amounts, the right time, active ingredient rotation, and the joint use of biologicals. This will help ensure technology longevity and protect the environment.
And what about extreme climatic events, such as drought and excessive rainfall, are they an issue for tropical agriculture?
DFJ - In fact, tropical regions have been the ones affected most by the weather. Of course, there are years in Europe or the in US when summer or the winter is off the chart. But everyone knows that in winter it will snow with greater or lesser intensity. In the tropics, the so-called “dry spells” [unseasonable periods without rain and intense heat] have been more frequent and more intense. Imagine the difficulties farmers face to make decisions!
But new technologies may come to help, right?
DFJ - Absolutely! In the case of seeds, materials tolerant to drought stress, for example, are being studied. Another matter is how Digital Farming can contribute to more efficient recommendations. Relying on satellite imagery, drones, sensors, traps and weather stations, at times integrated, can help the farmer with “warnings” indicating some type of control is needed and when to put it in place.
Head of Bayer’s Expertise Center for Tropical Agriculture (CEAT)