As the world grapples with climate uncertainty and dwindling, increasingly costly resources, the urgency of finding solutions to these problems is intensifying.
Added to this is the delicate balance between producing enough healthy food to feed the population, protecting the environment, and ensuring that farming remains profitable. How these factors are addressed over the next few years will determine the success or failure of countless thousands of farmers worldwide. The drive towards implementing farming practices that do not harm the environment intensified in 2021, and is set to grow. Societal pressure and the EU Green Deal will have far-reaching consequences, pushing the entire agriculture sector to adapt to its demands. Will South Africa be able to react to this trend?
‘THE MORE DATA PRODUCED IN THE SECTOR, THE MORE INSIGHTS WE’LL GAIN AND THE MORE WE’LL LEARN’
As far as crop protection goes, we can expect to see a turnaround in integrated pest management (IPM) solutions, as farmers will have to make do without their usual arsenal of chemicals. Rod Bell, CEO of CropLife South Africa, explains that current trends in agriculture all point towards employing an array of strategies and methods of pest control instead of just one.
“It means a mind shift towards managing pests, not just eliminating them, and using pesticides only when absolutely necessary. If the past year is anything to go by, we’re likely to see further strides made towards IPM in the coming year.” The potential impacts of the EU Green Deal, both negative and positive, are still being explored in the EU as well as its trading partners, including South Africa. But whether or not this country is able to deal effectively with these changing policies remains to be seen.
According to Bell, the ability of local regulators to approve the use of new technologies that will enable farmers to continue growing produce for export will largely determine whether or not these sectors will continue to flourish.
The plant science industry, he notes, has provided farmers with many tools to grow enough food, both sustainably and in an environmentally compatible manner. These include synthetic chemistry, biologicals, new breeding technologies or even application technologies.
“The solutions are there, [although] it’s not a one-size-fits-all package, because the crop pest situations around the world are vastly different.”
The problem, he stresses, is that the South African regulatory system governing new technologies and products is so far behind that farmers here are at a significant disadvantage compared with those elsewhere who have these solutions available to them.
“This is a very serious threat, not only to our producers’ livelihoods, but to national food security. In fact, it’s probably more of a threat than any foreign policy on South African agriculture.”
BIOFUELS ON THE RISE
The World Bank Commodity Markets Outlook predicts that the production of biofuels will increase in 2022. This could affect several food commodities, notably sugar cane and maize for ethanol production, and edible oils for biodiesel production. Analysts have forecast that by 2029, 25% and 14% of global sugar cane and maize output respectively will be used for ethanol.
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