TERRY TUCKER: Welcome, everyone. Welcome to the seventh presentation in this semester's Perspective on Global Development seminar series. I'm Terry Tucker. It's my pleasure to welcome today's speaker, Dr. Bram Govaerts, from-- currently holds the prestigious Andrew D. White Professorship, Professorship-at-Large at Cornell University.
And for those who don't know about that professorship, it's a distinction granted to individuals whose work in the sciences, in education, social sciences, literature, creative arts, all the things that we do here at Cornell-- has had great impact on international visibility. And following his six-year commitment, which I think you're about halfway through-- AD White Professors-at-Large are considered distinguished, lifetime members of Cornell University [INAUDIBLE].
And Dr. Govaerts' appointment as an AD White Professor-at-Large reflects his widely recognized contributions to global agriculture and food system innovation. In his day job, he serves as director general of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, CIMMYT, one of the world's leading agricultural research and development institutions. There, he's been instrumental in assembling effective multidisciplinary science and development teams to generate innovation and change in agriculture and food systems across the world. These initiatives have resulted in improved nutrition, in national and international resilience, and in food security across the world.
In 2014, Bram received the Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application, an award endowed by the Rockefeller Foundation and awarded by The World Food Prize Foundation for finding innovative ways of applying science to improve the productivity and resilience of small and medium-sized maize and wheat farmers in Mexico. He was very recently elected a fellow in the American Society of Agronomy, that organization's most prestigious recognition. It's a pleasure to meet you, Bram.
BRAM GOVAERTS: Thank you.
TERRY TUCKER: I look forward to your talk.
BRAM GOVAERTS: Thank you. First of all, thanks, everybody, for showing up to this seminar. Those online cannot see, but we have an almost full room all masked up. I'm not wearing my mask, just for clarity of the presentation. For those in the room that cannot see online, we have over 120 people now connected online.
So everybody, thanks for joining. I know you can do other things during these 45 minutes. So thanks for [INAUDIBLE].
I also deeply want to thank Cornell. I'm humbled by the recognition received. And that wouldn't have been possible by-- thanks to sponsors or supporters, like some of them in the room. So [? Johannes, ?] thanks a lot for doing that, but also Ronnie and many others that have been a [INAUDIBLE] in these adventures, and I hope will still be that.
Also, I want to deeply thank my colleagues at CIMMYT. The presentation I'm going to give is including material from colleagues in CIMMYT. So that also means there are going to be a couple slide slides where I'm going to be on very thin ice. And I will also indicate that, because it's those slides where a simple agronomist's probably a bit out of his league. But I know there is smart people in the room that are going to be able to help me to understand that.
So let's get this started. And the original presentation title was, What is the Leading Agricultural Research for Development Organization Doing to Help Farmers to Adapt to Climate Change? So the first part of the presentation is about that. But given the recent developments globally, I did add a section especially related to that. And I hope you will allow me to present some of that.
I think this is not working. I don't know why. Yeah, there we go. Yeah. All right, so first and foremost, what is CIMMYT?
CIMMYT works for a world with resilient agri-food systems and protecting the biodiversity. And we do that by keeping the farmer centered and working by a fantastic team, a team of scientists not only in CIMMYT, but in many, many other organizations with whom we collaborate, one of them Cornell. We would be nothing without the fantastic collaboration throughout the network of global research.
Having that said, our headquarters are in Mexico. We're active in almost 50 countries. And we are working about maize and wheat, one of the two important crops that feed the world. 70% of the wheat grown globally and 50% of the maize grown globally comes from CIMMYT's efforts.
And when I use the word CIMMYT, I don't only mean the institution. I mean the whole network of organizations around that. So we are, as a whole, as a collective, pretty important.
But also, we have a lot of weight on our shoulders. Let's not forget that we have a responsibility for 70% of the wheat grown globally, 50% of the maize. In whatever we do, we have to put our final stakeholder centrally. And that is those women and men on these pictures, as diverse as they are in different climates, with different families, with one objective-- feeding, sustainably, the world.
OK, I'm struggling a bit. OK, there we go. If we want to keep feeding the world, we first have to look at how many mouths that's going to be. And so we have to feed, soon, 690 million people additionally. 8.9% global population today are hungry. So we're already failing this task without taking into account the global population will keep rising.
So if we keep looking and projecting from the past towards the future, and we keep increasing yields as we have done in the past, which is this yellow line, that will not be enough-- because actually, if you look at population, we need to be at the green line. But it will be definitely not enough if we look at diseases, water, nutrient, and energy scarcity, and climate change, because those are pushing actually those lines to this red line. So what we have to overcome is this piece here, in the middle.
In the nexus, therefore, of the food production of course sits climate change. It influences the whole system that is built around that. We need to get climate out of agriculture, or climate change out of agriculture, but also agriculture out of climate change. Getting climate out of agriculture-- why?
Because climate is affecting agriculture to more extreme weather events, drought, and flooding. But also, if we don't do anything to adapt, we will lose 6% of the wheat yields and 7.4% of the maize yields globally. And this can be seen in these nice graphs-- how the change in climate will affect those yield gains.
Very simple and well-known effects like drought-- or the other extreme, water logging and heat-- but also a whole sweep of new diseases coming out because of those changing temperatures. It's a bit like we are creating the conditions for the next COVID disease to happen through climate change. But I mean COVID for the plants, which can be either-- many of those shown here.
But also, it's not only about the energy. It's also about the nutritional quality of the food we eat. We want a healthy diet, which starts first and foremost with having those cereals having the right nutritional qualities, and then of course, putting that all together with all the other products that we need to have a healthy diet.
If we look at climate change, it also affects the quality of wheat, rice, field peas, soybeans, maize, and sorghum. So it's not only a yield issue. It's also a quality issue.
But also, we need to take agriculture out of climate change. After big oil, probably, agriculture is the next sector that will be called to court of social society about its impact on climate change. We have an opportunity with all online and all sitting in the room to be-- before we are called to court, it's always easier if you can already say, yes, I know, but I already did this and this and this, and I will do even more this and that and that before you're sitting there, because a large amount of greenhouse gases actually come from the agricultural sector.
But therefore, CIMMYT is focusing on an extensive research agenda on climate change adaptation and mitigation. And we need to do even better. We need to strategize on how we can do better. And we want to strategize with you on that.
A climate-focused research agenda needs to aim to help smallholder farmers to adapt to those climate shocks, but also to take out and reduce those greenhouse gas emissions. And the first step of that is probably to make the 10,000 years of past work for us in the future. We have a unique opportunity to change the paradigm of how we do research.
Up to now, we were trying to resolve yesterday's problems tomorrow. What I mean is you observe a problem. You see the problem. You ask for money to resolve the problem. And tomorrow, the result will be there.
It's exactly what happened to the COVID crisis. There was a COVID crisis. We observed the crisis. We mobilized, very successfully, the scientific community.
And we came up with the vaccines. And the focus was on, let's do it fast, the faster we can. We have the capabilities. And we are, rightfully, very proud of that.
If you look at the climate crisis in the capabilities we have, we probably have to change that paradigm and say, can we solve today tomorrow's problem? Can we move ourselves in tomorrow's world and look what would be needed in that world? So rather than projecting from the past to the future, can we manage the present from that future?
This will require, on the one hand, knowing how that future looks like if we don't do anything. But we have the models. We have the IA. We have the data. We can do that.
We can also be more ambitious and accept-- we just don't want to accept a future projected from the past, but that we want to come together and design a better future. Those commitments in COP-13, what do they really mean? Society is hearing, they're going to take away my car. Society's hearing, I can no longer fly to this nice island to be on vacation. It's our job to project to society a better future we can agree upon, and from there, work backwards.
And luckily, we have the past to learn from and to use. This is the biodiversity represented of maize-- of corn, for those US English speakers. And you can see it doesn't all look yellow. It doesn't all look white. It has a whole set of different colors.
But colors is just one thing. Size is another one. But that's just an extra thing. What is inside those grains is also as diverse as those outside elements. And so that's one of the banks, of the gene banks. We have maize and wheat.
Yesterday, our friends from CIAT, also a part of the CGIAR network, inaugurated a new gene bank on beets. So those gene banks are actually globally available. They're a global public good. They have more than 750,000 accessions of all kinds of crops that are ready to be used, ready to be combined, like I many times say to farmers, ready to be a smart woman and a handsome man, and to make smart and handsome kids. But what smart and handsome means is very different for different circumstances, for different needs.
So we have seen it with maize. We have cassava, our colleagues from CIAT, Bioversity, and IITA. We have cowpea, rice, IRRI, sorghum. And of course, you see here Cornell and other universities involved in a new project today, press release. Look it up on CIMMYT's website about a new sprint, a new aim for climate sprint that is based on a past investment from the Mexican government in Seeds of Discovery and a current project with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
And what does that project want to do? It actually wants to look at, how are we breeding today, and can we breed today for a future world? Because when you breed a new crop, it will take at least 10 years before it reaches a farmer, because you have to go through this whole thing here. And then still you have to make the seeds. So can we actually change the way we think about that breeding?
And this is where I'm starting to get on very thin ice, because I'm just an argonomist. And the breeders, help me out, if I'm doing this wrong. So can we change this paradigm? And can we actually use environmental GWAS?
So what that means is what we normally do is we take a genotype. We look at the genes. And we try to identify how that is connected with the phenotype, how it looks like, what it does.
We analyze that. And we try to associate traits of interest with that genetic piece. And we try to combine those genetic pieces so we have several traits that we like. I hope I'm still doing well.
What happens if we actually make a combination between genotype and collection site or environment? What actually happens if we look more at the environment as the defining type, and not necessarily how somebody-- or how the seed is looking like or what trait it has? We do the analysis. And we actually connect the genetic piece with the [? well ?] behavior in an environment, knowing that future's environments will change.
So you actually could think, if I take a site, I designed a future environment of that. If we don't do anything, I could already say, OK, if these crops are going to go there, we need to get those characteristics in there, even if they are today not competitive. But they will be tomorrow. Does that-- I hope that makes sense.
And so the first steps have been done, also thanks to some of you here in the room, thanks to the collaboration with Cornell. And this is an example of a GWAS panel of 2,700 accessions of our gene bank connected with some of the site climate data. And what it did-- it did show this peak here. You see?
So these are the environments. We know where they were, where they were collected. They were mapped. And you can see this peak here. And this big here basically does represent the peak that is related to a heat shock transcription factor, which actually shows it plays a great role in surviving in a heat dense environment.
So we know we can make those connections. So we need to go a next step. And we did that with some of the [INAUDIBLE] group. And they ran another series of environmental GWAS elements, 2,500 land raises, some of those exotic maize colored types you saw. And in that panel, they looked at features like temperature, precipitation, wet-day frequence.
And they found a very good signal that you can see here. So they found that that gene of interest was identified via the GWAS accessions as relevant to be optimal in a certain environment. So we can then connect.
And, is this actually connecting to drought, was the question. And we could. The phenotypic data showed this. Genotypic data showed the graph below. And you can imagine that, now, you can go fancy, fancy as well on generating data.
Those agronomists here having 2,000-- what is it? 2,700 data points, 2,700 trials-- that's already fantastic. Here, we're rapidly talking about huge amount of data. And I think it is another paradigm shift that-- scientists in the past, their art was probably creating the data, and then interpreting them.
That creation of data part is increasing very rapidly on a relative scale. It's getting easier and easier to get a lot of data. The question is, how do we transform that data into learning, into information, and once we have the information, from information to decision making, and from decision making, to the decision taking?
Talking about collecting those data, in order to take into account all those different future climate change impacts, there's a whole series of instruments that have been activated within the CIMMYT research breeding programs, thanks to the physiology team. That goes from very precision elements where you're happy with a few data, but very precise, all the way up to huge data collection by drones, airplanes, et cetera. And so how do we connect those different data streams, and how do we mine them the best, is a challenge.
So I hope we have some mathematicians here, some statisticians, some engineers. This is now about robot sensors. So we need to get agricultural interest with the engineers in Cornell. So you need to talk about them-- that it's not only fun to eat and to have nice food, but they actually have to help us to produce that food.
One of the examples that you cannot do-- this is one institution. But we have to use the power of collaboration. We have to use the power of multi-country information. And this needs to go above any politics, any policy interventions.
This is about the global community coming together, about a great issue like, for example, heat. And all these sites here are sites where nurseries or sets of potential future seeds of wheat are tested to see if they work. So imagine the power of the collective data that is generated here. And that's what CIMMYT does, connecting and bringing together those global partners, and bringing that knowledge out.
So is it about CIMMYT? Is it about Cornell? Is it about-- I don't know-- ICAR in India? Frankly speaking, it's not. It's about the collective power of bringing that data together through a network that decides to do something about this issue.
And we need to rapidly respond. And you have a rapid responder here in the room, which is Ronnie. When he saw Ug99, together with a team of people-- it's kind of the COVID for wheat. All of a sudden, this rust disease came up, no wheat resistant to it.
It's like COVID came in. And we don't know. Maybe some of you are resistant, but we don't know-- or naturally resistant. It would be fun to know who of you are, because then we could probably understand a few things. But we didn't know.
We don't know. Same thing-- the best we could do is to rapidly actually replace several of those varieties with resistant varieties. And it was a very huge success story that I hope you all know, because it was again the success of collaboration, but also the success of seeing an issue and responding very rapidly before it became a disaster.
Now the problem is, how do you get dollars for avoiding a disaster? I'm still struggling with that. How do you keep getting dollars for avoiding something that didn't happen? But we have, constantly, wheat blasts coming in, fall armyworm.
If you are a farmer here in the US, you know about fall armyworm. If you are a farmer in Mexico, you know about it. If you're sitting in Africa, you don't. But the fall armyworm took a plane, and it hit Africa. It was a disaster.
Same, maize lethal necrosis responses of the maize teams globally was one of those other success stories. If we look at the seeds grown in Afghanistan, 75% come from CIMMYT. CIMMYT-- once again, not the institution, but the network of wheat institutions working with us. Ethiopia-- 87% of the wheat.
So if you take out the investment in those organizations, that's what you're playing with. You're playing with the daily bread of these kind of countries. Making the seed is not enough. We have to generate the seed systems. We do a lot of work on seed systems, very successful work collaborating with the private sector on that.
For example, here for South Asia, so for the whole South Asia continent, you see seed companies in Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, maybe seed companies you didn't even know existed, seed companies in India, all working together to get those seeds to the farmers. Seeds, per se, are not enough. We need to put those seeds in a transformational environment so they give us the grain.
And that means empowering whoever's plants and source, which is the farmer. That means testing new and innovative, but also traditional methods to understand how I can create the best agronomy, the best system, and the best transformation towards nutritious food, and integrate all the actors around that. So it's the great balancing act between social organizations, collective action, public sector, policies, adaptation, private sector, individual action, technologies. And where is everybody sitting in this great balancing act?
And to make it even more complex, this whole balancing act is not sitting in a linear process. It's not sitting in an engineer process. It is sitting in these very complex graphs, which is your agri-food system. So we need double systems thinking.
But at the same time, let's not get lost in complexity. We do need to get some results. We need to get stuff done. So there's always-- even if it's a complex system, there are linear elements in that system.
But we are probably moving more and more to this wicked problem state, which is a state where your problems are very high in uncertainty and very high in value conflicts. So this is probably the site or the space where we are with the whole climate change question. How will we need to be today so people in 2100 say, luckily, in 2022, Cornell did what it did. Luckily, in 2022, CIMMYT did what it did.
2100, that's the scale we're talking about. Sounds far away. Your kids will probably still be alive. Some of you will still be alive in 2100. So it's not that far away.
With that, we started experimenting in CIMMYT with new action research, participatory action research that looks at the relevance for the final stakeholder, that engages from the design of the research, and that is ready to adapt whenever it looks necessary or it deems to be necessary. And we started with the setup in a certain agroecology that looked a bit like this-- very nice drawing.
We have a platform. A platform is a controlled environment. It would be an experiment in Geneva, for example, where you have a very controlled experimental station with a long-term trial. We have on-farm trials. And then from there, you go to farmers applying it.
But if you look at this, this is actually an engineer that made this drawing. Now, if you would have asked an artist to make this drawing, he would probably already have made it different, because we basically took three elements, made a circle, and then some lines here. So it was still very transfer-of-technology thinking, very technology focused.
This is a drawing from 10 years ago. And we were already happy-- very conservation agriculture, one technology approach, very structural, if you see, many structural elements, very linear. And then, when we draw what happened on site, it became a bit more messy, because guess what? There's human being involved. And it's actually sitting more centric than your nice structural elements.
So the next step was, oh, this actually doesn't work like that. It's actually about brokering. It's actually an actor focus. It's actually not about the technology, but the outcome, sustainable intensification. It's at the network, rather than a structure. It's about the dynamics of that network.
So our next intent-- to better characterize what we are doing. I'm sorry, this-- oh. Yeah, so next intent is this one. Still a bit showing where the sites are, because you probably want to see where the interventions are.
Where is Cornell? It's probably here-- basic research, platforms, controlled trials. But we want to take you more and more on this story here, on-farm trials, 20,000. Of those can you plug them into your research thinking? Can you get PhD students working with farmers that apply the knowledge?
But the most important thing is this thing here on the top, which is a network of actors that moves into that space. And that is a huge experiment, per se. All those people do experiments daily, like you do. You probably tried to do something different today. I hope at least one thing different a day, because otherwise life is boring. So you did already one experiment today.
Let's harvest some of that information-- so the whole notion of citizen science, the whole notion of big data, combined with structured data so that we can extract the information we want. So it's actually more and more about working in the nexus of energy, food, and water in a knowledge system where you recognize different knowledge streams from tacit to explicit, from implicit to embodied, from embodied to embedded, and to established.
And within that context, you have time, space, and actors. And very important, you have power dynamics. And you have not even started your research yet. Don't forget that we want science to be neutral. But there are power dynamics around the design of our own science.
How does such a system look like in Mexico? You have it here. Every red dot is a module. Every green dot is one of those application sites where we harvest data. And every blue dot is farmers just running with it, doing it. And we have minimal data of what they're doing, but not all the detailed control data.
Outcome of that for the agronomists in the room-- you want to see plants. You want to see yield. You want to see, how good is this going? So you can see it here-- left side, conservation agriculture; right side, conventional.
Maize-maize-- taking away all the residue of plowing. Maize-wheat rotations-- leaving the residue and not plowing in the environment in Mexico City. Same environment, completely different-- in a tropical area, conservation agriculture versus conventional. And I'm going to take this one, because I think the battery is flat. Oh, let's see if this-- no, it's not working, either. Yeah, can we see it now?
So this is another site where you can see the same thing-- conservation ag left, conventional to its right, conservation agriculture to the left, conventional right, conservation agriculture left, conventional-- all under water. A few days later, it looks like this. So this is technologies that do climate change adaptation, choose over time. That technology-- this is yield.
This is time. Something dropped off my slide. So the green one seems to be the best. It's [? top. ?] It's less variable. The red one seems to be less stable, very traditional.
But guess what? Surprise-- high yields may not be the primary focus of the farmers. So if you really want to look at adaptive agronomic production systems, we need to look at different elements, because maybe yield is not the base on which farmers take their decision.
It's maybe labor. It's maybe markets. It's maybe land appropriation. It's maybe speculation. It's maybe farming style, et cetera, et cetera.
But also, if we are creating those new systems, we cannot only look at yield. If we have very, very high yields of costs of greenhouse gas emissions, it's kind of killing yourself, right? It is eating very nice, and at the same time producing a toxin that's going to kill you. So why would we do that?
So there needs to be other elements before we take a decision. What is happening with greenhouse gas emissions? Can we take N2O out of that story? Can we understand what those emissions are, how they are moving?
Can we use sensors to optimize some of those elements? Can we use compost, organic matter? Can we do circular economy and look-- and I see Rebecca in the room-- and look at what comes out of us? And can we use it for something?
Very, very interesting ideas. Maybe the cities can produce fertilizer. Why not? So most farmers-- sorry, I think that's a replication.
Sorry. Are we going backwards? That's usually not a good thing to do. OK, here we are. So no, I-- did I skip? No, there we are.
So technologies for climate change-- carbon sequestration. Obviously, is that carbon sitting there? How is it sitting there? Is it moving but still there, or not? How do we influence that by the practices we use?
Chemical systematic innovations for sustainable cropping systems? Can we change the way we crop? Can we use different durations of crops so that we can fit in another crop with the right machine?
Can be buffer and get out of some of the heat, and so the crop is sufficiently advanced? Can we mature it easily so that it doesn't affect end of the crop hail or an end of the crop cold? Can we create that extra window for that mung bean that we need to have a healthy diet?
But also, can we help those people living in the city of New Delhi? If you've ever been at a certain point in New Delhi, it's very difficult to breathe, because there's a lot of smog, a lot of smoke. And the smoke is coming from the surrounding areas, farmers burning their straw.
So can we actually do something? Instead of putting the fields on fire, can we actually put a bit of fire into farmers to do those things differently? And at the same time, our-- maybe cities are willing to pay for that through carbon credits, because they want to breathe cleaner air.
There are options that are actually doing that, that carbon capturing. But can we then measure it? Because right now, we are actually estimating it. So there's going to come a point where people are going to say, well, you're saying this, but can we measure? Can we put sensors everywhere?
How are we really going to account for what we are doing, especially if it becomes a business? You don't want to be giving money for something you imagine. You want to make sure it's real. So I think we have a shift from business as usual towards business unusual within a usual business.
So we need to zoom the focus. We need to not reinvent the wheel. What's already there? Let's use it. We need to test and validate under specific circumstances.
We need to demonstrate with clarity what is the objective. If we are not clear about the objective, we are already in a very different conversation. If I don't tell you what my objective is, if we don't tell what the ideal world is, it's going to be a very difficult conversation.
Analyze and reanalyze data. We analyzed data, and then we probably put them away, because I did my experiment. Well, but maybe the objective changed. So can we reanalyze those data under a different paradigm? And generalization in the world, in life, is usually very dangerous.
So I'm at the top of the hour. And this was going to be the moment where I was going to close off my seminar and open it for Q&A, were it not that there has been a recent development globally, which I think we need to talk about. We recently have the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
Why do we need to talk about it as maize-wheat center? Why do we need to talk about as CALS seminar or global development seminar? Because there's five top producers of wheat-- US, Canada, Russia, and the Ukraine. And those top producers export to a couple of countries.
You can see it on this map. Russia is exporting to the countries that you can see highlighted here. The Ukraine is exporting to these countries here. Now, many of those countries actually are potentially wheat-producing countries. But under an efficiency paradigm, they are importing that wheat.
You probably have seen the recent news. As well Russia, as the Ukraine has declared independently if they are going to harvest or not. I think they're-- especially in Ukraine-- busy with other things. And the crop is in the field. It's almost ready to be harvested.
But even if they harvest, both countries have said they will not export as an initial measure to make sure-- they don't know what's coming-- to make sure that the population can be fed. That's going to have an impact on price. That's going to have a ripple effect.
On the other hand, fertilizer is also produced-- a lot of it, nitrogen fertilizer-- in Russia. So that will not be available on the market as it was before. And we all know the impact on wheat, on maize of not sufficient availability of nitrogen. That's going to be an immediate knock-off on the yields.
So there's going to be two effects, and effect of non-availability to those countries, an effect on production in the rest of the world. And then that means an effect on availability to the countries that would buy, but also immediate an effect on price in general, which will be an effect on other countries.
We know from history that the price of food can generate conflict. If we analyze the Arab Spring, it was several factors. But one, let's say, of the three to five key factors was the cost of food.
Now, in this country, I was listening to the news. And you're discussing a lot the cost of energy. And that's, of course, because those two countries also export a lot of oil, a lot of energy. And you feel the price of energy almost directly, because there's less intermediate steps.
While the cost of food, it takes a while before it has an impact on your supermarket. It takes less of a while before it has an impact on the pocket of those that-- where supermarkets are shorter that actually take the grain and turn it into bread, which is many of those countries. But still, it takes a while.
But when it hits, it's going to hit hard. And it's going to hit for sure. And we already see that those countries that are in blue here already today, before this happened, they were hunger hotspots, 'cause they were already at the margin of being able to feed their population.
What is the direct impact? The direct impact is increasing prices. And you can see how prices of wheat are going up. Maize will be dragged with that. Rice, soybean automatically goes with those prices. So we see prices going up today, day after day after day.
So what do we need to do? We need short-term and long-term solutions that go hand in hand, immediate crisis relief. So yes, we need to look at the World Food Program and how they intervene.
But hopefully, they can intervene in such a way that while they intervene, they also create a resilience for the future. Hopefully, we can use the data of their intervention. Hopefully, the type of intervention is such a way that farmers can produce the food locally later on, instead of destabilizing some of that production. Hopefully, if they do that, they can give drought-resistant wheat varieties.
They can maybe promote new production systems so that we can reactivate that production element. That means you, us, CIMMYT, Cornell, others online, we need to be there. We need to call the executive director of the World Food Program now to say, we are ready to collaborate to do this smarter and better.
Second, we need to keep going on sending the right varieties and innovations. We need to maintain this system, because if we're on top of that, Ug99 hits, where would we be? And we have barely invested enough in the research world to keep going, to keep fighting the new diseases. So we need to invest to keep this system going while, on the longer term, we invest in transforming from efficiency to resilience.
It may make no sense to produce in certain countries, because it's not efficient. But if you look at it from a resilience standpoint, it makes sense. So we need to shift that paradigm.
What we cannot do is say, I have this system here, I'm going to create this new system. I switch the system off, and I switch this system on, because that means, at least for a second, complete darkness. So we need to keep this moving while we transform here, and slowly let it take over.
Seems like a impressive, undoable task. What are you going to do about it? Well, it is an impressive task, but it's not an undoable task. So undoable that the next slide doesn't go up-- OK, it's not an undoable task. We did it before.
If 50 years ago this man would have said, it's an undoable task, we would not be here. If he wouldn't have the leadership and invite others-- like Romney-- to say, come with me, it's not an undoable task, we would not be sitting here. We have created peace through agriculture. We just need to do it again.
And I'm not saying-- let me be crystal clear. I'm not saying, we need to do what he did. He would slap you in the face if you would say that-- not literally, no, but with words-- because that's not what it's about. It's about the same transformational, bold, but not reckless decision to do something about it before it is too late. That's the call.
We have done it together with another of those situations. We came together. And we made a strong coalition of the willing with the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative. We went out. We showed decision makers, if you don't do something now, this is going to spread, and it's going to be a disaster. We need to get out.
And if only, we need to do it for the simple reason of being relevant. We are an exercise in CIMMYT to make an excellence in science strategy. If we put that strategy out in two-- in a year, let's say, and we're going to start bragging about it, you are making a strategy project 2030.
What's the new vision of Cornell? You're going to go out in a year and brag about it. If we don't do anything today, people are going to say, great-- great that you were occupied making a new strategy while we needed you on the ground doing stuff now. So now you come, saying you're going to save the world? You should have saved it when there was still some time to save it.
So just for the sake of being relevant, we need to do something. And if you look around-- I am sorry, it's very scary. But today, we realize there is no others. Today, you realize, this is the meeting.
This is the team that needs to come together. There is no other team out there that's going to do it for us. We better come together and get the job done. So I hope to leave from here by the end of the week-- together with many, many colleagues, many, many friends-- with a clear plan that we can go out and say, we can do something about it.
We can do something immediately. We need to keep the system going. We need to show those countries where they can grow wheat, how we can buffer this medium-term peace. And we are ready to start to shift from efficiency to resilience. There's huge potential in this room.
And this phrase was never this relevant, but you cannot eat potential. And very soon, some people are going to have to eat. So I hope we're going to give them more than just the potential. Thank you very much.
AUDIENCE: I'd like to congratulate you for the beautiful presentation.
BRAM GOVAERTS: I'm sorry, I cannot hear up to here.
TERRY TUCKER: Yeah, you just have to get really close to it.
BRAM GOVAERTS: Give it a knock, and there we go.
AUDIENCE: Yeah, I'll remove my mask. So first of all, I would like to congratulate you for the brilliant presentation. It was really insightful to hear and learn all the interesting things that CIMMYT is doing. And my question is also related to the COVID crisis.
I know, in the seed production system, it takes a long time to come up with new varieties to test them, and so forth. But is there a possibility to sort of shorten this period so that we are able to respond to this emerging crisis? They did it with the vaccines. So what about with seeds and food crops? Is it possible to do that?
BRAM GOVAERTS: Thank you very much. Yes, there is, because we have done that. We have done it we Ug99. We have done it with maize lethal necrosis. We have done it.
But we have not done it with some other diseases like, for example, wheat blast. And why? Because nobody was interested to.
And what I think is it should not just be a matter of people standing up and shouting loud enough so that you can get the resources, and that's then the one you respond to. This should be part of investments that are made. There should be a bucket that says-- and for anything else you need to do, to make this work.
But that's very scary, right, because you will not ever have the argument as the recipient to say, well, that was-- I mean, sorry, but you didn't pay for that piece, so it didn't work well. It was your fault. You should have paid for it. If there is that bucket saying, in everything else you need to do, to make it work, it's a bit scary, because that means the accountability is 100% clear that we need to make it work. So yes, there have been examples of maize lethal necrosis, Ug99, fall armyworm.
But I think we can do better. We can do faster. And we can do it more constant so it's not a constant of putting out fires. Thank you.
SPEAKER: Is there a question online?
TERRY TUCKER: Yes. I can--
AUDIENCE: There's a question online from Michael Snow, who is asking, should we be so focused on maize and wheat only? I kind of know the answer. But he's saying, what about other perennial crops? That could be important to feeding the world.
BRAM GOVAERTS: Yes. When you are the director of the Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, you need to be focused on maize and wheat. But no.
And if I gave the wrong impression, I hope that you could see in some of the slides it was not about maize and wheat. Those systems interventions, those agri-food systems, those hubs-- that's crop agnostic. It's about individuals producing a healthy diet. And a healthy diet involves more than maize and wheat. So we're not going to save the world or feed-- or nourish people sustainably with maize and wheat alone.
But also, let's get out of those-- allow me to say it-- cheap discussions, dichotomies, which I sometimes feel they actually distract from taking a responsibility and accountability to do something, because while we're quarreling about what it should be, we better should say, this is what we want. Healthy diet, what does that mean? What is a healthy diet for Ethiopia? Can we agree on that?
If we agree on that, let's work backwards. And let's then make it work. And let's then work on it.
And maybe it means producing, on less land, more maize so that you can fulfill that and open space for beans, sorghum, groundnut. Maybe sorghum is what's needed to bring in the mixed response quickly-- respond quickly to some of the needs. We will have to analyze it. So very clear-- no, not only about maize and wheat.
AUDIENCE: I very much appreciated your lecture, and especially the call to action, which I feel like is sometimes lacking in speeches. But I wanted to ask-- so you talked about resilience versus efficiency, which I feel like is a concept that a lot of people have kind of been floating around, but not spelling out as explicitly as you are. How do we convince people who are focused on the efficiency of the now, this year's profit margins-- how do you convince them to focus on resilience? And what's maybe some of the knowledge structures to prove that, like, how important it is, what's the dollar amount?
BRAM GOVAERTS: Yeah. So it's two strategies. Either you turn resilience into efficiency, or into a decision of efficiency. Or you make people aware about the importance of resilience. Let me give two examples.
If you look at business continuity in a value chain, then there's insurances for that to ensure your company so that it can keep working, and if something happens that you have an insurance. If you look at that and you say-- and if those insurance companies would tell to a company, your insurance is going to be more expensive if your value chain is not resilient, if your value chain has a higher risk of breaking through, because you're only buying it from one side, shipping it through one shipping route to your company-- that's going to cost you more because the probability of that breaking down is higher than if you do that, but you also do local sourcing.
You do it from small farmers, from medium farmers, and from big farmers. And I'm not saying, shut down the big farmers. Big farmers produce volume, very homogeneous. If you shut those down, you're in trouble. I'm not saying, only source from smallholder farmers.
Resilience comes from the combination of different types-- you see what I mean-- of different size, because they respond differently to pressures. You see then, if you want a big impact, go with the big farmers. If they take a different decision-- wow, huge impact. If you want to do different things, go with [INAUDIBLE], that whole range.
So if you would make that insurance more expensive, it becomes an efficiency decision for the CFO of the company. But it's going to directly impact the bottom line. So that's one strategy. How do we do [? plays ?] where the resilience gets a price?
That then becomes an efficiency decision. So you don't change the decision making, per se, of the system. That's one way. That, we probably need. And that's probably the immediate, easiest way. That, we need to combine with visualizing resilience.
We do take those decisions individually, daily, when you imagine, when you visualize the resilience. It's kind of crossing a street. You can cross the highway by going like this. Or you can cross the highway by walking a little bit further. Take the bridge over the highway. Come down.
And why are you not taking the most efficient decision? You're making a resilience decision, because you want to get alive at the other side of the road. So you are willing to invest more and to create a resilience path-- this is a very simple example. Resilience people would say, this is the worst example ever. But I'm trying to make it simple.
So you are willing to pay more. You're willing to put more energy, because you can see the cost-- the potential cost, even if it's not a real cost. You can see the potential cost, which is huge, if the crisis happens. You don't know if it's going to happen.
Maybe you are fast enough, and you run between the cars, and you're fine. But it can happen. So it's about visualizing that potential cost that is high enough so you're willing to invest in the short run.
We're really bad-- really bad-- at showing, at telling the story of that potential cost at the systems perspective. So that's where we need artists, storytellers. That's why insurance companies have actuaries. Actuaries-- their job is to paint a picture of the risk and the probability. And let's bring them in.
Can they look at our agri-food systems and describe that picture? And then maybe we're willing to take different decisions, in that sense. Yeah, we have a-- sorry.
SPEAKER: Two final questions. One is online from [? KV ?] [? Roman, ?] who wants you to comment on gene editing and GM potential, and discussion and policy. And there's another question here in person. We can take one of them.
BRAM GOVAERTS: Yeah. And thanks to the students. I know you need to go to another class. So thanks. Thanks for being here.
AUDIENCE: Yes, thank you. My question is really about the grand challenge project, looking at the periodic table of food.
BRAM GOVAERTS: Looking at the-- sorry?
AUDIENCE: The periodic table of food that's being done by Rockefeller Foundation and a combination of different research institutions, and your talk about looking at future problems and solving them today. I'm wondering if you're considering putting some of your work that is in progress to-- submitting it to that periodic table analysis so that in future, if it turns out to be what we need, then it's already incorporated in that, and if it's a possibility. Thanks.
BRAM GOVAERTS: I don't know all the details about that effort, so shame on me. I don't have the full information. But I already say right now, yes, why not? If there's anything there that can test and give us some insights to learn more, absolutely. But hopefully, you can send me some more info, because I don't have the details on that effort.
TERRY TUCKER: I think I could fix--
BRAM GOVAERTS: Here, go ahead. I think [INAUDIBLE]. You said [? KV-- ?]
SPEAKER: [? KV ?] had a question of GM, and gene editing, and the limitations and policy. And I think [? Robert ?] has a final question.
BRAM GOVAERTS: OK, let me tell the gene editing and transgenic discussion. Let's discuss that. Happy to do that. Also, there are several scientists in CIMMYT that are way more knowledgeable about that. So I can also connect whoever asked the question to that resource.
AUDIENCE: So is this thing working?
BRAM GOVAERTS: Yes.
TERRY TUCKER: So you just have to get it really close.
BRAM GOVAERTS: OK, make it touching.
AUDIENCE: Thanks, Bram. Bram, I'm excited about your efficiency to resiliency concept here. It seems like so many reasons to do that. And I'm wondering if you could elaborate on the main elements.
You've given an analogy for it, for getting from hither to thither. But you got diversification circularity, redundancy, decentralization, and possibly general shift towards more agricultural production syndromes generally. And I'm wondering, looking as CIMMYT and then more generically, how do you-- like, if you're going to pound the top three? Or is that stupid?
I mean, it is stupid. But so what's the whole laundry list? And what are the main angles that you would take as an institution to make that shift not at the margins, but more centrally?
BRAM GOVAERTS: Yeah, this is a fantastic question, and I think it is by asking the right question. I think already, by asking the question, what do we need to do today to be relevant in 2100, you actually take the efficiency out of the strategic planning question, because efficiency is usually very, very short term. And when you look longer term, almost automatically, that resilience piece comes into that.
So I think that's top. That's number one, because like you said, the laundry list is going to be very, very long on where and how we can do this. But I think that's number one.
Bringing climate change as a central driver on how we should look at the innovations, how we should look at the research, how we should-- is another strategy probably to get there, because climate change inherently is going to change the paradigm. And we think we know. But we actually don't fully know. So it's also probably going to bring it there.
But let me also say what we will not do. It doesn't mean throwing everything out that we are doing today, and all of a sudden running to that other thing. It doesn't also mean that the processes, per se, always need to-- what I mean is you want your purchase done fast, correctly, immediately, well done, finished. That's an effective process. You want an effective process. And then you want to make it efficient.
So it doesn't mean resilience has to be everywhere at every time, at every moment, and you throw out the ways you are doing all your business. What I mean is it needs to slowly come in there without shutting down the-- so what I would not recommend is let's not shut down this system we have, and we're going to now create this other thing, because that would be very unresilient.
AUDIENCE: But am I wrong to see those three things that you just said as how or why, the how--
BRAM GOVAERTS: Yes, it's more the how.
AUDIENCE: I don't know what. What's the what?
BRAM GOVAERTS: I think it is the what. But I'm not-- it's going to have to lead to the what. But I'm not going to prescribe to all those actors in the network what is going to be. It is probably going to be about drought-resistant varieties.
It is going to be about broad adaptability of the varieties-- or not, but let's have that discussion. It is going to be about how you do farmer-centered research, so you take that stakeholder centrally. But I think everybody needs to go through the thinking process.
And it would be a mistake, as director general, to try to be prescriptive of what that means for-- because you know that actually, if you go through the thinking process, you will come up with the what yourself, probably, quite efficiently. So I think the why-- getting that impregnated. The how-- so putting a few tactics that can result in operational change.
AUDIENCE: I see.
BRAM GOVAERTS: Makes sense.
TERRY TUCKER: Thank you.
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Perspectives in Global Development Seminar Series: Spring 2022Climate-focused research aims to help smallholder farmers adapt to climate shocks and to raise and maintain high yields profitably and, most of all, sustainably by reducing GHG emissions. At the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), we have undertaken extensive research on climate change adaptation and mitigation in maize and wheat-based systems across Africa, Asia and Latin America. The outcomes have been thousands of new high-yielding, heat and drought tolerant, pest and disease resistant, nutritious maize and wheat varieties, and conservation agriculture-based practices and technologies that increase soil nutrient and water use efficiency to reduce water, fertilizer and energy consumption at the farm level. In other words, advances in agronomic practices seek to increase resource use efficiency to help reduce GHG and adapt agriculture to weather variabilities and extreme climate events. Researchers at CIMMYT are confident that improved seeds combined with conservation and precision agriculture increase yields sustainably by reducing the emissions intensity of maize and wheat systems and preventing, in turn, further changes of land use for agricultural activities. With this purpose, CIMMYT scales out conservation agriculture-based sustainable intensification practices and technologies to accelerate a transition to the more efficient, resilient, inclusive and sustainable cereal systems that the world needs today.About the speakerGovaerts is Director General a.i. (Secretary General and CEO) of CIMMYT and a A.D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell. Specializing in bioscience engineering and soil science, Govaerts is renowned for pioneering, implementing, and inspiring transformational changes for farmers and consumers. Committed to meeting sustainable development challenges in agri-food systems, he brings together multi-disciplinary teams to stimulate change through multi-stakehol