How Plant Science Supports Agriculture During COVID-19
By Giulia Di Tommaso
The new norm of COVID-19 causes major challenges in every part of society, leaving social scuff and significantly changing the way we all live and work. This global crisis presents additional challenges for farmers, who are essential in keeping this health crisis from turning into a hunger crisis. This time of year, they are getting ready for planting in the northern hemisphere or preparing to harvest in the southern part of the world.
During this very difficult time, the plant science sector is doing everything possible to support farmers to keep food on our tables. Our global, integrated food production system is complex and all parts of it must continue to work smoothly if we are to maintain an uninterrupted food supply. Our first priority is to safeguard food quantity and quality and protect the health of farm workers.
In the short-term, we must also emphasize the importance of maintaining trade and open borders to ensure farmers have the necessary crop inputs and ability to harvest and market their products. The free flow of workers, products, seeds, technology and services allows this to happen.
As we look longer-term, our focus must include the impact of COVID-19 on farmers in developing countries and the risks this presents to global food security. Together we must ensure that the supply of healthy and sustainable crops remains strong and reliable. Any delays could put food supplies at risk in both the short- and long-term.
While food security is a priority now, issues such as climate change and biodiversity continue to be equally important in order to protect global food production in the long term.
Maintaining Stable Food Supplies
We have seen major threats to food security throughout history – from the 1929 U.S. stock market crash and Dust Bowl to severe droughts to the recent locust swarms in Africa and Fall Armyworm outbreaks in Asia and Latin America. Today, plant science will collaborate with farmers and governments worldwide to get through the COVID-19 crisis. We are helping support public health officials by donating personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer to hospitals worldwide; helping communities disinfect schools and government offices; donating to food relief programs; and continuing to provide farmers with essential tools needed to grow food sustainably.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is especially important to reassure people that there will be sufficient food in grocery stores and people will stay well nourished. Availability of fruits, vegetables and whole grains – consumption of which is recommended by global health authorities to reduce human disease risk and augment nutrition – is always important but especially when supply chains are stressed. And farmers must be supported with access to the latest technologies and information on how to use them responsibly. Maintaining a steady supply of, for example, pesticides and biotech seeds will help farmers grow more food on less land while raising productivity per hectare.
In addition to providing sufficient supplies, food security is about providing safe products to meet everyone’s ongoing growth and development needs. Therefore, food safety is part of food security. It ensures that edible products do not cause any harm to the health of consumers, whether from pests or tools used to control them.
Protecting Farm Workers
Those in the food and agriculture sector at large are considered “essential critical infrastructure workers” according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Helping these workers continue to do their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic with periods of social distancing as well as city, state and country lockdowns is crucial to short-term food security. Beyond putting social distancing in place for farm workers, good stewardship – including the use of personal protective equipment when applying pesticides and the responsible storage, use and disposal of these products – helps keep them healthy.
Longer term, maintaining healthy farming communities will depend on stable livelihoods and the inclusion of young people. Plant science technologies help farmers be productive and profitable and attract upcoming generations to agricultural fields. Employing graduates in scientific fields from agronomy to plant pathology to biotechnology, agriculture is a sophisticated business today. Young, educated individuals must be continuously integrated into farms to keep fields productive, profitable and sustainable.
In these unprecedented times, CropLife International and its members are committed to keeping employees safe and to supporting farmers in their efforts to produce sufficient, safe, nutritious and affordable food – well beyond the current health crisis. This is not a challenge anyone will overcome alone; we stand ready to cooperate with others and assist in any way needed.
Giulia Di Tommaso is president & CEO of CropLife International in Brussels, Belgium. This editorial was reprinted from PesticideFacts.org with permission from CropLife International.