An activist’s view on agbiotech & sustainability

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Danielle Nierenberg is President of Food Tank and an influential voice on food issues. She interviewed hundreds and hundreds of farmers, researchers, government leaders, NGOs and journalists in 50 plus countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America over the last several years. We asked her three questions for an article on sustainable innovations to be published in Italy.

Business as usual is not going to feed the world in the climate change era. What’s the recipe for a new environmentally friendly green revolution?

The recipe for sustainable agriculture is  changing and evolving. Farmers, eaters, businesses, policymakers, and scientists are continually learning about the best ways to increase nutrition, protect natural resources, and raise incomes. I think there are lots of different ingredients, however, there are a few that deserve special attention. First, preserving what may be agriculture’s most important but overlooked input – soil. Second, finding ways to prevent food loss and food waste. Third, combining high and low tech innovations and honoring traditional and indigenous knowledge while also recognizing the role of new technologies. And last, but not least, recognizing the important role of women and youth in the food system worldwide.

The IPCC mentions CRISPR among potentially useful innovations. Do you agree the new breeding techniques are valuable tools to nourish humanity and the planet?

As an agricultural nerd, I’m interested in all kinds of technologies. But my question is always, who will benefit? Who owns the technology? And does it solve a problem that needs solving? Some of the investment breeding programs that are in place now are focused on commodity and starchy staple crops – crops that typically lack nutrition and often are processed into high fat, high calorie, high salt products. I hope that more breeding programs, whether it’s CRISPR or another technology, can focus on more nourishing crops – crops that are good for people and the planet including high protein perennial grains, sorghums and millets, nutrient vegetables, fruits, and nuts as well as livestock and insect breeds that are nutritious and environmentally sustainable.

Do you think the global community is investing enough in ag research and innovation?

No! So many countries continue to ignore agriculture and farmers at their own peril – the Global South and the Global North both need to respect, honor, and value farmers more as well as the land on which they work. Without robust and resilient regenerative agricultural systems – that are invested in by governments, foundations, and eaters – we will not have a future that is food and nutrition secure as well as environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable.

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