Providing Safe, Nutritious Food

Taking the Long View

by Liam Condon
Liam Condon is a Member of the Board of Management of Bayer AG and President of the Crop Science Division.

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.

“We recently surveyed 10,000 consumers worldwide and learned that most people support innovations that help grow more food, but they are deeply concerned about the safety of the tools that have helped make modern farming so successful.”
Liam Condon is a Member of the Board of Management of Bayer AG and President of the Crop Science Division

We recently surveyed 10,000 consumers worldwide and learned that most people support innovations that help grow more food, but they are deeply concerned about the safety of the tools that have helped make modern farming so successful. An example is the use of crop protection products and other management practices that have helped farmers produce more food on less land. Understanding this is fundamental: It’s up to us in agriculture to actively engage with consumers to understand and address their concerns, while continuing to support farming practices that provide healthy and affordable choices for everyone.

The future of farming includes large farms that can efficiently feed and clothe a growing world, while using less land and natural resources. And it includes hundreds of millions of small farms, especially in Africa and Asia, which account for about 80 percent of the food consumed in developing countries. Enabling farms of all sizes to become more productive and sustainable will bring benefits not only to farmers, but also to consumers, communities and local economies worldwide.

Agriculture thrives on creativity and adaptation to fit its local environment — there is no “one size fits all” approach. And just like any industry, agriculture depends on innovation. It would be naive to expect farmers to revert to outdated agrarian practices used when we had fewer people to feed and less pressure on our natural resources. Continued innovation will enable farmers to efficiently provide greater choices of nutritious food and do so more safely and responsibly than ever before. To be truly sustainable, the benefits of new technologies must be felt by farmers, consumers and the planet.

I believe we can find the right balance between feeding a growing population and protecting our natural resources, as long as we build on our cumulative knowledge of science and nature to guide our journey towards a more sustainable future. It’s a marathon in which we are all participants and, more importantly, it’s a race we cannot afford to lose.