Made to Measure Solutions
The answer? Research and development. Providing a ‘made to measure’ solution for a particular region will always be more effective than forcing a ‘one size fits all’ approach onto the world, particularly when we refer to seeds and smallholder farmers.
Smallholder farmers are a vital part of global agriculture. More than four-fifths of the food that sustains families in the developing world comes from farms two hectares or less in size. And we know smallholder farmers face constant challenges from yield-robbing pests and weather as they strive to grow enough nutritious food for their families and local communities. We appreciate they don’t have the same resources as ‘big agriculture’ to tackle these challenges and that access to these resources is often thwarted by pressures such as social instability, lack of infrastructure and an unpredictable regulatory environment.
Through research and development, we can create seeds that produce crops with specific traits (see box below for explanation), tailored for the local needs of farmers and their communities.
One way research and development can help is by increasing the nutritional value of crops, thereby producing healthier, tastier food to eat. Some parts of the world, particularly in India and South Asia, have very low levels of zinc in the soil, which means food grown could lack some nutritional value. Bayer is actively contributing to the HarvestPlus program, which aims to add vital elements such as zinc to staple foods in order to reduce malnutrition. We are working to develop new seeds with high iron levels and test them in our breeding programs. So far, we have identified a superior pearl millet hybrid which is high in iron and therefore helps provide the nutritional requirements the rural community needs.
We also help smallholder farmers simplify their production activities and increase their yield security by breeding hybrid seeds with new features that withstand drought, flooding, pests and diseases. Giving crops the armor to thrive in difficult climates means we’re helping farmers to grow more food for their communities and to develop their businesses.
One great example is Arize AZ 8433T, a first-of-its-kind hybrid rice seed that we launched earlier in 2018 in India. The seeds have been bred with resistance against Brown Plant Hopper and Bacterial Leaf Blight, which both cause huge crop losses.
The positive contribution of this new hybrid has been significant. Sumeru Ram Sahu, a farmer in Dhamatari district of Chhattisgarh, in central India, sowed Arize AZ 8433 DT on four acres / (1.62 hectares) of his land and the results have been promising. “Even under such a heavy infestation, the performance exhibited by Arize…was nothing short of a miracle,” he said.
Around 5,000 other farmers like Sumeru have seen similar results, with around 10,000 acres (4047 hectares) of farmland now sown with Arize AZ 8433 DT across the major rice-growing belts of the country.
Another example is Arize AZ7006. In 2017, we launched this hybrid in Bangladesh, where frequent flooding had a serious impact on farmers’ rice yields. Arize AZ7006 is bred with submergence tolerance which means that these hybrid rice plants can survive more than 15 days under a sustained flood of over 1 meter. The average yield of this hybrid is around six tons per hectare which is between one-fifth to one-third more than other varieties.
So far, around 1.7 million smallholder farmers have benefitted from our pioneering work on hybrid rice. When you consider that around 3.2 billion people worldwide depend on the grain for more than a fifth of their daily calories, the value of hybrid rice and similar advances through innovative Research & Development at Bayer becomes clear. Importantly, this research and development into rice helps us contribute to the United Nations Zero Hunger Challenge, which aims to eliminate all forms of malnutrition by 2030.
When creating these varieties, accessing and understanding local knowledge is invaluable. We work closely with local research institutes and farmers, whose valuable knowledge and experience, combined with our capabilities, help us come up with the best solutions. In 2018, we announced that together with the International Rice Research Institute we would help make direct seeded rice more accessible and widely available to rice farmers in Asia. As one of the founding members of the International Crops Research for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) we are working to create pearl millet hybrids with high iron density and tolerance for Indian summers.
Another example is our work with Plant Breeders Without Borders—and, in particular, our project with the Bambara Groundnut in Indonesia. We trained smallholder farmers on ways to improve their plant breeding, helping them to develop more of their own varieties.
Listening to smallholder farmers ensures our research and development can be more targeted and make a real difference to food production in the villages of smallholder farmers. Working with smallholder farmers to develop tailored solutions to suit their local production needs will help over time to sustainably increase production in order to feed a growing population while protecting biodiversity.
To finish where we began—farmers, communities, and Bayer are stronger when we work together with shared goals. Research and development and knowledge sharing enable access to seeds, which better meet smallholder farmers’ needs and ensures we continue to grow stronger together.
Brown Plant Hopper: one of the most serious insect pests of rice, the Brown Plant Hopper is found in Asia, on many Pacific islands and in tropical parts of Australia. Yield losses of 30% are not uncommon and sometimes a crop can be destroyed completely.
Bacterial Leaf Blight: a dreaded rice farming disease, it is most likely to develop in areas that have weeds and infected plants left after harvest. It occurs more frequently in tropical environments, particularly in irrigated and rain fed lowland areas.
Find out more here.