In their efforts to grow crops that nourish and support their communities, smallholder farmers often face many difficulties throughout the growing season. One of the most prevalent challenges for smallholders is their lack of options regarding the types of seeds they can purchase and plant. It’s hard to accomplish any task without the right tools, and when farmers’ crops struggle to make the best use of resources (e.g. water) and withstand the harsher aspects of their local environment, the impact hits very close to home.
But what if farmers could improve their lives, operations and communities by finding the right solutions to address their unique challenges? This democratization of resources and opportunity is more than just possible—it’s happening today.
Building a working relationship
When plant scientists understand the unique challenges farmers face, they are better able to produce products that drive positive results around the world. Today, countless researchers and farmers are working together to develop tailored biotech and hybrid seed solutions that help smallholders harness the positive potential that was previously out of reach.
Breaking beyond subsistence farming
Before any community can prosper, its farmers must prosper. For centuries, one pattern has repeated itself across the globe: when farmers improve productivity to release themselves from subsistence farming, good things happen throughout their communities—living standards rise, more children attend school and more people are empowered to start new businesses. This has certainly been a phenomenon witnessed by V. Ravichandran (a.k.a. Ravi), a farmer in Southern India who has used hybrid seeds and other tailored solutions to make dramatic changes to his operation over the past two decades.
In every region that has achieved prosperity, from the U.S. and Europe to India and South America, hybrid seeds (plants generated through cross-pollination) and GM seeds (plants produced through genetic modification) have played a major role in improving agricultural productivity, which in turn empowers farmers like Ravi to build better lives for themselves, their families and their communities. By empowering farmers to conserve natural resources and cultivate their crops more sustainably, the positive impact of these hybrid and GMO seeds reverberate outward throughout our global food system.
Harnessing the best of two worlds for an even better one
There is no one-size-fits-all solution in agriculture, but hybrid seeds have played a particularly positive role for farmers around the world. So why is this the case? The answer has to do with blending the best of what nature has to offer.
The general concept behind hybrid seeds is identifying the most ideal characteristics of two plant strains and crossing them to create a new generation of plants that’s uniquely able to address a farmer’s specific needs. In most cases, the two original purebred plant strains are selected based on combinations of multiple beneficial traits like drought tolerance or disease resistance. When the original plants are combined together through crossing, the hybrid offspring have the potential to be stronger and healthier than their parents—a phenomenon known as heterosis, or hybrid vigor.
Like Ravi mentions from his personal experiences, the difference between conventional and hybrid crops can be incredible. Because hybrid rice varieties weather harsh environmental conditions more successfully, they are more reliable and productive than non-hybridized crops. As such, this distinction has become a vital focus for countries like Bangladesh, which has highlighted hybrid rice research as a core priority to improve national food security and GDP.
Putting solutions into play
Although hybrid seeds and GM seeds have been around for decades, there are still many parts of the developing world where they have yet to establish a strong presence. This is due in part to the challenge of breeding for specific climates or regions—an endeavor which requires substantial investment. Additionally, these developments are often also affected by lack of infrastructure or regional policies that both inhibit smallholders from being able to access innovations in agriculture.
By working closely with farmers, many leading scientists are finding ways to bring improved hybrids to the developing world that would better address the farmers’ needs and challenges to grow their crops more sustainably. Having recognized the hurdles, companies and nonprofits are working together to garner more investment, talent, attention and innovation to provide agricultural opportunities to developing countries. Private and public partnerships like these are especially important given that the bulk of population growth is occurring in the developing world. By collaborating to drive greater innovation in these markets, agriculture will empower farmers like Ravi today and well into the future.
Paying it forward
When communities cultivate enough to eat, share and sell, they are better able to prosper. That’s why hybrid seeds and other biotech solutions are becoming an increasingly important means to democratize opportunity around the world. To do so, Bayer is continually exploring ways to make these tools available to everyone, ensuring that farmers in every corner of the world can create prosperity for all.