I’m a distance runner, not a sprinter. There are many reasons people run marathons, but for me, it’s about the diligence and determination needed to make progress in the short term, while working towards a long-term goal. I view the challenges we face in feeding a growing population in much the same way. We must address our immediate food security needs, while also preparing to secure a brighter future.
Farming comes in many shapes and sizes, from subsistence-based smallholder farmers to professionally run mega-farms. Although each farm is different, all farmers share a common desire to get the most out of their land in a way that balances their short- and long-term needs. To do this sustainably, they need access to high-quality, affordable seeds and tools to protect their crops from weeds, pests and diseases, while preserving the natural resources for the future. Sustainable farming is all about ensuring the right balance between food production, economic viability and environmental protection.
Our world is expected to reach 10 billion people by 2050, even as the total amount of farmland continues to decline. As more people move to larger cities, conflicts over land and water resources between rural and urban communities will undoubtedly increase. It is likely that increased urbanization will further accelerate the ever-widening disconnect between farmers and consumers. Until we address these issues, a food system that does not balance the needs of its people with the optimal use of its natural resources is simply not sustainable.
Growing up in Ireland, it was impossible to escape memories of the Great Famine in the mid-1800s, when a new disease ravaged the potato crop, resulting in the starvation of 1 million people and the emigration of many more. The lessons learned from this history have shaped my views of agriculture: First, farmers need to have access to the best tools available to grow and protect our food. Second, farmers need to select the right crops and best management practices to match the local environment. And third, when farmers fail, society suffers, so it is in everyone’s interest to help them be successful.