RONNIE COFFMAN: So it's good to back in Hong Kong because I've had a lot of experience. 45 years ago I first came to Hong Kong. So sometimes I wish I had a little less experience. But anyway, it's good to be back. It's amazing what's happened to the city since I've first started coming.
So we've been at this business for a long time in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. You can see here a pretty good sampling. This is the International Ag Society in 1922. And so over there standing up-- the first guy's from the Philippines. The second one is from China. Then that third guy, Liberty Hyde Bailey. Then you have CSE from China-- several more-- somebody from India. We've had a lot of international collaboration in this region from the very beginning.
So the global food system-- I think this slide from The Economist-- if you wanted to choose one slide that shows us where we're at, this would be it. Each of these bars here, for each region, each bar is five years. So you can see what the trends are in each region. Big picture is, we're producing a lot of stuff on the other side of the world, where many of us are from, and we're using it over here. And it's not getting any better. It's getting worse. And this slide could be updated now. I've asked the folks at Cargill for the data. They're the source of it, as you might notice. And they say, well, the economists that did this several years ago have fallen off the perch, or whatever, and they don't have them anymore. They referred me to FAO. So I haven't been able to update it.
But I think the trend is still going, maybe even more rapidly. David talked about the shipping industry earlier this morning. It's so efficient, and so easy, to float food in anymore, especially in the big, rapidly developing coastal cities, of which Hong Kong is probably one of the greatest examples. So I suppose that if you drew this graph for this city, it would be more exaggerated as far as where your food is being produced and where it's coming from. But it's a big disadvantage to the farmers of the world, because it's hard to compete with the increasingly automated systems in North America and South America if you're a poor farmer in the middle of Africa or in the middle of Asia and you don't have efficient transportation system, So this is the big picture. And I think it's probably an unsustainable picture, if we're honest about it. So this is what we're confronting.
The other thing we're confronting is global climate change. It is really very serious. And the disturbing thing is that the temperatures are going up more in the very high latitudes. That's, they tell me, because the ice caps are melting, which produces more warm water, which causes more temperature rise, which causes more melting. So it's going exponential in those latitudes, which is going to raise the sea level at every latitude. I was a rice breeder for 10 years. I can tell you-- you know, of course, but maybe some of you haven't really experienced it-- the density of the population of people in this region in the big rice-growing deltas. The Mekong, the Irrawaddy, the [INAUDIBLE], the Ganges, and so forth is tremendous.
So 2 centimeters a year, the brackish water, the sea water is starting to push up. I first went to the Mekong in 1972. Now there was a picture of ducks wading in the rice fields. So I'm happy to see there are still some rice fields. But they're growing a lot of shrimp in the brackish water. It's tough to grow rice anymore because the saltwater is coming in. It's coming in to all of them. It's going to put a lot of pressure on the rice. It's going to put a lot of pressure on the people. Probably the worst country right now is Bangladesh. People are moving to Dhaka. Every time there's a cyclone, some major event that pushes the saltwater inwards, you have a huge migration of people. So this is going to keep moving and putting on pressure.
So this is what I'd to do. I'd like to stress the importance of the multidisciplinary collaborations. That's why we're here. We have a lot of land grant institutions in the US that would like to contribute, the CGIR institutions. I work for one, The International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines. But there are 14 others around the world that focus on our major commodities and they have a lot to contribute. The local national agricultural research systems, or [INAUDIBLE] that we call them-- China has one of the largest in the world. India has one of the largest in the world. Every country has one and they're all potentially good partners.
Building human capacity-- we need to focus on farmers. Farmers are leaving the farm, especially young men all over the world. They're headed for the urban areas to try to find work. You go to Africa, we talk about in Africa the feminization of agriculture, because the only people home are the women and the children. The men have gone to the towns to seek construction work or whatever. So we need to make agriculture more attractive to young people. It's essential if we're going to have a sustainable future. We need to engage our students abroad, create credibility with donors, show that we can manage these large interdisciplinary projects with many partners who have comparative advantages and can contribute effectively and efficiently. And then we need to do a much better job of communicated about science, about what we do. That's something that unfortunately, we do our science pretty well, but we don't do our communications all that well.
So I'm going to give you some examples of some of the projects that we're involved in. What is the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat Project in China, straight north of you here. It's the largest wheat growing country in the world. There's a major disease that affects wheat. It's called rust. There are several of them, but the most damaging is wheat stem rust. For reasons that we don't know, new physiological races develop in East Africa and then they blow around the world. So we got a new one in 1999 called UG-- UG for Uganda-- Uganda 99. It's since spread up and down the east coast of Africa. It jumped the Red Sea in 2006. It's been found as far north as Iran. The wind blows this direction.
So we engaged-- I was a student of Dr. Norman Borlaug, the only scientist to win the Nobel Prize in agriculture. So when this thing first hit, he was 90 years old or so. He was very worried about it. I said, well, if you will put your name on it, I will write a proposal, and we'll approach the Gates Foundation to see if we could get some money to do something about this. So we did that. And we succeeded. And we organized this network, about 20 institutions that receive money, with several others that contribute with their own money. It's been very effective. I mentioned the status and credibility with donors.
We did a good job of managing that, and they asked us to take on several more projects. It's been a rewarding experience working with the Gates Foundation. And we've been able to deploy resistant varieties in the path of this thing, so the threat is much diminished compared to what it was a decade ago. We've placed a lot of emphasis on communications. This is one thing that, when they gave us the first grant, Bill Gates insisted on putting in money for advocacy. And as a plant breeder, to tell you the truth, I didn't quite know what to do with it. I asked some communications people. And they said, well, you should hire a high profile communication firm.
So I had to spend the money. So I did that. I hired [? Burnett's ?] in Washington, DC. They said, oh, it's very clear what you need to do. You need to go to London, give some deskside interviews to The Guardian, to BBC, to [INAUDIBLE], so forth, and we'll arrange it. It'll only cost you $50,000. So I had that much money and I didn't know how else to spend it, so I paid them, and I went there, spent three days, gave a lot of interviews, and sure enough, a few weeks later, we were approached by DFID, the Department For International Development of the UK. And eventually they gave us $15 million for this project. And it was because they read about it in these high profile media outlets.
So a big lesson for us there-- for me and for all of us-- is donor organizations are not hierarchical anymore. They're more lateral. And they make their decisions based on a large number of people in that organization. And those people give their impressions from these outlets. As George Bush says, it's hard to misunderestimate the importance of this kind of stuff. George Bush is great compared to some of those challenges we have now, right?
So here's another example, this one from Bangladesh. This is eggplant-- or [NON-ENGLISH], as they call it in this part of the world. Or in the Philippines they call it [FILIPINO]. This project operates both in Bangladesh and in the Philippines. In Bangladesh we've been successful. You might not know or expect that eggplant is the biggest user of pesticide in Asia after cotton. And cotton-- the problem was solved with the same technology. Bt-- bacillus thuringiensis-- it's a single gene that produces a protein that is toxic to certain categories of insects, particularly lepidopterin.
So the fruit and shoot borer-- you can see this thing right here-- the moth lights on the eggplant, lays an egg. Within the three hours, the thing hatches a little room, bores down, and your fruit is ruined. So the traditional solution is you keep a layer of pesticide on all the fruits, all the time. So eggplant farmers in the Philippines, over in Bangladesh, they just spray essentially every day, or at least every other day. And if they don't spray, they give their kid a bucket full of pesticide, send them through the field dipping the little fruits into the bucket. That's the way they protect it.
So this technology, which is transgenic-- and we have a lot of social resistance to this-- gives complete immunity to this pest. The way it works-- the toxin works effectively in the high pH, or basic, gut of the insect. So a lepidopterin insect has a basic gut, a high pH and the toxin is effective. In humans, we have an acid gut, as do most mammals. So we can eat that protein all day, no problem. It's just broken down like any other protein. So it's a very effective technology. You get nice, clean fruits. And it's spreading in Bangladesh like wildfire. It's spreading across the border into India. We don't know if the Indians will come around finally to accepting these technologies, or if eventually they'll just all be eating Bangladeshi eggplant, because that variety is coming. Farmers love it and you can imagine why. This is the Minister of Agriculture here, who was so effective in pushing the technology through. And she's handing out the first plants to some of these farmers.
So the agricultural innovation partnership-- many of the state agriculture universities in India, where this project operates, and in other parts of the world are stuck with the curriculum that was established at the time they were created. There are-- I don't know-- I think 70-odd state agricultural universities in India. And their curricula is seriously outdated. So we set up a project, which was funded by USAID and then by CAR in India, to modernize the curriculum and the extension programming. It's been very effective. We also updated the libraries. These two guys here are [INAUDIBLE] librarian [INAUDIBLE] library and the local library at BHU, Banaras Hindu University. We have a program called TEEAL, The Essential Electronic Agricultural Library, where for just a very small price you can have a modern library.
Our NextGen Cassava project put in-- this is really basically operating in Africa, because most Gates money is restricted to Sub-Saharan Africa. But I put a Thai farmer in here, just to relate it to your region. Because cassava is very important in your region. It's a big source of starch in many countries, especially Thailand. They ship a lot of it to Europe and elsewhere. But cassava is a very-- as a plant breeder, we call it a very recalcitrant plant. It's very hard to improve it. It's been clonally propagated for centuries. And when you cross two of the clones, it just falls apart. You don't get anything useful. So we're using genomic selection, which we can actually sequence the genomes of individual plants. That way we can pick out the most likely two plants to mate.
And we've made really rapid progress, as much as 10% a year in increasing the genetic [INAUDIBLE] in cassava. So this is bringing the power of computing to plant breeding. And this project's also supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They're very generous donors. For the wheat project, which has now evolved from [? rice ?] to include all the traits in wheat, particularly things brought on by climate change, we've had a total of $101 million from the Gates Foundation and DFID combined. The Cassava Project-- we've had approximately $30 million. And we're trying to renew that just now for about $35 million. So these are major projects that are having a major impact throughout the world.
I wanted to mention the Tata-Cornell Initiative, which is overseen by Dr. Prabhu Pingali. He could do a much better job of talking about it. But they're doing several things in India. But one of the things in particular, which comes from the College of Engineering-- I know there are several engineering college here-- is they're implementing the AguaClara technology in India, which utilizes a fairly simple technology, that's illustrated here, to give communities pure water. It's really been very successful in Central America. And now it's being implemented in Asia. And the TCI does a lot of effective work in India, including perhaps there's as many as a dozen students each year that are supported by the TCI.
--year we'll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of this course. I took it, as a student, in 1969. So it's been doing a lot of good for a lot of people for a long time. So we have students throughout the world engaged in internships and other activities. We also collaborate with our peer universities in the land grant system. This is an example of one managed by UC Davis. It's a Feed the Future USAID innovation lab on horticulture. And we're working with them, especially in South Asia. But they have collaborators, as you can see, around the world.
So we're exploring. We have quite a bit of activity in Myanmar. We don't have $100 million worth. We're exploring that one. But there is a loan there for $100 million. And we're talking with the bank officers there about getting involved. They want to spend most of the money on horticulture and water management. We know the bank officers well, so we think there's a lot of prospect there. The Atkinson Center's involved there in several ways, so we're hoping to ramp up our programs there.
India is just now bringing on a major loan from the world bank, which we think they're going to use it to strengthen higher education. So we expect to be involved in that in a significant way, if we can. We've been approached by the World Bank to help in Afghanistan, which is not as dangerous as it might sound. This could probably involve bringing Afghan scientists and extension people from India to train them, as opposed to trying to train them there.
So the last thing I want to mention is what we call The Alliance for Science. It's also supported by the Gates Foundation. It's our attempt to push back on all of the anti-science movement that you see these days. And we do that by bringing in about 25 young people, communications specialists from around the world, each year. And we keep them for-- I think it's four months-- and teach them the art of communicating about these technologies. We're just ending the first three-year project and the Gates Foundation is happy with it. They're going to renew it for $5 million for another three years. These are an example of the students-- communicators from different parts of the world that we're bringing in for this program. You can see them listed over here. And they will be accepting nominations soon for our new batch. Here's an example of a priest who came from the central mountain region of the Philippines. This photo would have been made in [INAUDIBLE], I think. But the Catholic Church is a big supporter of technologies, including these modern technologies, so he was a very enthusiastic student.
So here this is Hawaii, not exactly a developing country, but a place where the whole papaya industry was saved by transgenic technology. The industry was succumbing to a virus disease there. Technology from Cornell helped save it. The only place its accepted, besides the US, is Japan. Japan imports this papaya-- [INAUDIBLE] papaya, it's called-- from Hawaii. But the Philippines, Thailand, other areas-- so far we haven't succeeded in introducing the technology.
So back to these lessons-- I just want to, in closing, reemphasize them. Again, we need to strengthen our collaborations. We welcome the opportunity, especially in this part of the world. Build human capacity. Focus on the farmer. Engage students abroad. Create credibility with donors and leverage communication and advocacy networks. We're generating knowledge for a public purpose. And so we should all be working together for a more secure world.
So that's my last slide, except-- in this part of the world, you sometimes have a bonus-- a [NON-ENGLISH] they call it in the Philippines. So I have one more slide, which is something I read this morning. But it's not in this one. My gosh. OK, the slide was that the clothing industry-- and what the slide was was a beautiful line of ladies' clothing. The clothing industry-- twice as many clothes are made now as were made in the year 2000. In the last 60 years we've doubled the production of clothes at a great expense to the environment. Each kilogram of clothing produces 23 kilograms of CO2. So I guess the lesson is, wear the same outfit.
This is a sustainability conference, and it's something I notice we're not talking about, but it is a big factor. So thank you very much. If there's time I would like to [INAUDIBLE].
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On April 7, 2017 Ronnie Coffman delivered a keynote address entitled "Agricultural Engagement in Asia and Lessons for Successful Partnerships" as part of the conference, Sustainability in Asia: Partnerships for Research and Implementation, which took place April 6-7 at the Cordis Hotel, Kowloon, Hong Kong. The conference brought together international scholars, scientists, practitioners, and policy influencers from the United States and Asia who are working to advance sustainable practices and solutions in the face of climate change, increased energy needs, and the specter of slower economic growth.
Ronnie Coffman serves as International Professor of Plant Breeding and Director of International Programs of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University. He also serves as Principal Investigator of the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project (ABSPII), the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat project, the Agricultural Innovations Partnership, and the NextGen Cassava Project. Coffman`s work has been important to the development of improved rice varieties grown on several million hectares throughout the world. He is the recipient of the 2013 World Agriculture Prize.