Governments can’t wait for someone else to slow down inflation and put the brakes on climate change. They need to do something, and now, other than the extreme right wing, they seem to have most of the public on their side.
And they’re turning to agriculture.
For example, earlier this week US lawmakers agreed (albeit narrowly)to take a $20-billion gamble on what’s called climate-smart farming practices, as well as investments in renewable power, biofuels and forestry.
Part of the package includes tax incentives to reduce carbon emissions, something the agriculture sector has been preaching for ages. It also wants recognition for current contributions to greenhouse gas sequestration, which has been widely ignored by governments.
This US effort is being regarded as a huge step forward, politically and practically. Some say it will supercharge energy grid storage in the country, a huge issue for some states such as Texas.
As well, it sets the bar high for other superpowers to follow suit, which they’ll need to do: The Wall Street Journal says economists predict that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees will cost $1.5 trillion.
But if anyone needed even more impetus for change, here’s one: a new agricultural outlook report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says a 28 per cent increase in productivity is needed to eliminate hunger by 2030.
Productivity is often fingered as a culprit when agriculture and climate change are discussed. Farmers became more productive as populations grew. Climate change was not an issue then.
But now, an exceptionally long view on support for agriculture is needed. And given the complexity of the challenges, it’s time once more to reiterate the need for research support.
That goes beyond bricks and mortar. Last week, Farm Credit Canada (FCC) – the biggest agri-food lender in the country – announced it would match institutional and retail capital for something called The 51 Food and Ag Tech Fund, which focuses on supporting underrepresented founders of early-stage companies.
“The continued success of the Canadian agriculture and food industry relies on its ability to adopt technology, attract a skilled and diverse labour force, and embrace sustainability, all of which supports profitability and productivity in this vital sector of our economy,” said Rebbecca Clarke, vice-president of FCC venture capital. Diversity is a key to looking at challenges and opportunities in a new light, she said.
Research has already taken us a long way. At the Cattlemen’s College in Houston, participants were told about eye-opening advances in cattle production thanks to research. These include slick-coated cattle that can better withstand heat, as well as naturally polled cattle, born without horns that need to be removed in production.
Gene editing, a relatively simple process compared to technologies from the past, make this and much more possible.
Superpowers will take the lead in major investments. But as research at universities in Canada, the US and elsewhere have shown, support doesn’t need to be massive to be effective. However, it does need to be consistent, reliable and part of an overall culture for researchers to make gains.