JOHANNES LEHMANN: All right. Thank you very much, everyone. And welcome to this week's AD White professor lectureship. I'm so pleased that we can welcome Bram Govaerts here through Cornell through his inaugural visit as a new AD White Professor-at-Large.
For those of you who don't know what AD White, the AD White professorship is a six-year term endowed to international leaders to bring expertise to campus. And in fact, it was created explicitly because we are at a location, apparently, where it's hard to get to. And so AD White already, the first president of Cornell, recognized that and wanted to do something so that we get expertise here to Upstate New York to Cornell.
So during the six-year term, the AD White Professor-at-Large will be several times on campus. And this is Dr. Bram Govaerts' first appearance here at Cornell as part of his appointment. I'm very pleased that he could make it here. We had to postpone it already due to COVID. And so we're very happy that he could make it now.
Bram received his graduate education in Belgium, his native Belgium, where he studied soil science. So it's very, very close to where I I'm also working in. But he clearly expanded his expertise beyond his disciplinary background. So it's really very fitting that he would assume this AD White professorship.
He received numerous awards and accolades for his work. He received the prestigious-- and, I think, also inaugural-- Norman Borlaug Field Award in 2014, I believe, from the World Food Prize Foundation. And that is a testament to the type of scholarship that he's doing that is really, as he would probably say much better and with much greater authority, bring science to the people, bring science to the farmers.
That is really, I think, what is at heart. And that's why I'm so intrigued that he was able to accept this professorship to bring the whole expertise of what needs to be done in such a broad area of scholarship of agricultural development, agricultural research, to bear on a global scale.
He now is the director general of CIMMYT. That is the UN-affiliated-- I'm not sure about the precise title-- affiliated and research center for maize and wheat based just outside Mexico City in Mexico that has research purview, globally doing research in many countries on from plant breeding, to soil science and agronomy, and in between.
And as he will tell us today, he will be-- he's very eager to bring system science, food system science, to what's traditionally agronomy and soil science and plant breeding, to integrate all the disciplines. And that's why it's so intriguing to have him here, to also think about scholarship beyond agriculture and include a realist systems view into what is usually a disciplinary scholarship. And with that, I'll welcome Bram, and really look forward to the conversation.
BRAM GOVAERTS: All right, thank you. Sorry, not COVID, I have a dust allergy. So I got surprised. I think the previous teacher used a lot of this probably. So I'm taking off my masks, just easier to talk. I hope everybody's comfortable with that. If there's one person not, I'm happy to switch. OK, thank you. So thanks, Johannes, for that introduction. It's an honor for me, rather, to be here and to be speaking to you today.
I was asked to give a more general lecture on the field of action where we are, and I named it "Food Security: A legacy turned into a future challenge of peace, prosperity, and empowerment." And actually, this is my first quiz for at the end of the lecture. This is a paraphrasing. "Peace, prosperity, and empowerment" is a paraphrasing of a very famous vice president of the United States. So at the end, you can win a washing machine if you know who that vice president was.
What is CIMMYT? CIMMYT is the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center. The acronym is CIMMYT which doesn't work in English, but it works in Spanish, [SPANISH]. Today, we go beyond maize and wheat.
The reason for that is we believe, on the one end, that there needs to be more a systems approach, so it needs to be going beyond the crops. A crop grows into a system. And we also do beyond maize and wheat breeding, the breeding for sorghum, millet, and groundnut, especially focusing on Africa.
CIMMYT is located with its headquarters in Mexico. That's a historic decision, but also a logical decision being the maize center, as Mexico is the endemic place for maize. That's where maize was born, if you want to say it like that, known as [NON-ENGLISH], many, many years ago. And it doesn't even look like maize, but that's the origin of what we know as maize or corn for US English speakers here.
What's the impact of CIMMYT? 70% of the wheat-derived seeds globally come from CIMMYT, and 50% of the maize. That doesn't mean that we do all that by ourselves, and I will come to that. We have presence in almost 50 countries, and there is a benefit-cost ratio for every dollar invested in wheat research up to $100, $103 return.
So the US and CIMMYT have a very long history. Being here in the US, it started with this person here, which is Norman Borlaug, who was sent to CIMMYT under-- and we have here shared history between Cornell under a Rockefeller-funded effort, which was called the Office of Special Studies. And so it's no coincidence, I believe, that today we stand in the Rockefeller Hall. That is, sometimes history comes back together and sends you a message. I'm not going to say who is standing on this picture together with Rockefeller because that's the answer to the quiz later at the end of the talk.
So it was Dr. Norman Borlaug who generated the Green Revolution through dwarf wheat, for which he then received the Nobel Peace Prize. And when he received that Nobel Peace Prize, he made a very important statement to which I come back later on. "You can't build peace on empty stomachs."
I want to make very, very clear before I start this presentation that everything I'm going to speak about today and the essence of CIMMYT is that we are at the service of those represented in these pictures here. If, in the end, we don't make a change in farmers' lives, and he or she at the same time makes an impact on the whole value chain, we're basically not reaching the objective or the mission of the institution.
Today we have a big challenge. If you look, when CIMMYT was founded, the biggest challenge was the population growth. There was a big jump after the Second World War of a population growth. And we actually fueled probably that growth. And I use the word "fuel" by a carbon-based economy, economic growth, and then scientific innovations.
Today there's going to be a next population jump on the one hand. On the other hand, we have the challenge of nourishing, feeding nutritious diets, give nutritious diets to that population jump. So another jump in numbers, but also a jump in composition quality which need to be produced within planetary boundaries.
Still astonishing numbers-- 821 million people undernourished. Now, I'm going to give a disclaimer. These slides were prepared three weeks ago. And I will come back to why that is important. 149 million children around the world are stunted. 50 million children are affected by wasting of food.
39 of the adults are overweight. So we have a dichotomous situation here. On the one hand, we have an overweight, which is a non-optimal diet or a non-nutritious diet. On the other hand, we have under-nutrition. Also, agriculture feeds 7.6 billion people and needs to go to 10 billion by 2050.
On the other hand, we have this in the midst of a climate crisis. And we need to get climate out of agriculture, but also agriculture out of the climate crisis, which what I mean is agriculture is also one of the sectors accounting for the greenhouse gas emissions.
And I was-- five weeks ago I said, after big oil, the next one that is going to get a very big slap in the face is going to be agriculture. And two weeks-- and I think somebody heard me on the Hill. And two weeks later, there was a very famous senator here in the US that made a whole clip on The New York Times about how agriculture is the next big cause for greenhouse gas emissions.
So I think all this here in the room, including those not coming from agriculture-- because I actually know we have an artist, and I know there's some from agriculture, but it's a broader public-- we all are responsible to actually take also agriculture out of climate, and, of course, climate out of agriculture, because this climate crisis, if you look at the numbers without adaptation, each degree Celsius of increased global mean temperature would mean a loss of 6% of the wheat yield globally and 7.4% of the maize yields globally.
And actually, there would be more impact and more drastic impact and faster impact in those areas where the management is non-optimal, and you can see that here. If you have optimal management, there's kind of a resilience up to, then going fastly down. If you see drought, it's more linear response to those temperature increases.
Not only that-- it is quite impressive how increased CO2 pressures are shifting the nutritional profile of the grains we produce. And this is well for legumes as for grasses and cereals.
I do want to highlight that broken food systems globally are underpinning a lot of the migration that we already see right now. A lot of the migration coming from Central America is actually driven by violence, on the one hand, on the other hand, by broken agri-food systems in that central region of America. So we can actually see that in the higher and upper middle income countries that account for 55% of the food area, there is 95% of the global dollars invested in agri-food. While in the lower and the middle income countries that account for 45% of the food area, it's only-- it's less than 5% or close to 5%.
So what's CIMMYT's focus? We are shifting the focus a little bit from that original mandate of generating better seeds to now a mandate of looking at a systems perspective, especially that system in the midst of climate change adaptation and mitigation.
So our research outputs and innovations need to, on the one hand, maintain those new high-yielding, heat- and drought-tolerant maize and wheat varieties, now complemented by sorghum, millet, and groundnut. And we need to increase the nutritious value of those grains, but also, obviously, the nutrient and water use efficiency of those same systems. A whole new area is the shift in how we do research.
A lot of our research in the past-- and this is-- a research in the past probably was known for creating a moment, an environment, an experiment to collect data. More and more, we actually see-- and I'm going to exaggerate a little bit-- that collecting the data is not the difficult thing. The data is coming at us at a very high speed if we do it right. So there's actually a shift in capabilities. It's about, how do we turn that data into information, which becomes more and more important.
So starting where it starts-- I want to welcome all of you. If you have a chance, if you ever fly to Mexico City, let me know so you can visit CIMMYT, all welcome. This an official invitation. Let me know a week before so that we can open this precious gene bank for you. This is a biodiversity bank that safeguards 28,000 samples of maize and 140,000 samples of wheat.
These are basically the building blocks for those future seeds. When I talk with the farmers, I usually say, it's like taking a very smart woman and a handsome man, and you want handsome and smart kids out of that combination. What handsome means-- very different, depends on the situation, depends on many things. What intelligent means also depends on the situation.
So same for seed-- depends on the agri-ecological environment. Obviously, all kids are handsome and smart, especially if you ask their parents. Not all seeds are handsome and smart. So there is a whole process of actually bringing those out with a farmer-centered approach, because it's probably very different what is handsome and smart for a scientist and what it is for a farmer.
And also from there, already there is a shift that we are doing. And we would never pretend to tell somebody else what handsome and smart means. But we tend to pretend to tell somebody else, especially a farmer, what handsome and smart should mean for him just to make the parallel.
So globally, we sent every year 500,000 of those seeds. This was a huge effort during the COVID crisis But it never stopped. We also did it in an apolitical way, so whomever asks for the seed, it's not up to us to decide if he or she has the right to receive it. Everybody has the right to receive it independent from political situations.
Every blue dot is wheat. Every red dot is maize. One of those envelopes is a new variety that goes to those places and gets tested to see if that works for that environment. And then it's a seed system that actually multiplies and moves it forward.
Also in the US, 60% of the wheat grown in the US comes from CIMMYT-derived material through strong collaborations with all those here on the bottom. And yes, you're also there, which means all those squares and triangles around point is seed sharing square is-- one is maize. The other one is wheat. And then, obviously, there's partnerships also with US institutions.
So what's our global impact? CIMMYT center generates globally 3.5 to 4 billion annual financial impact. Fortunately or unfortunately, depends on how you look at it-- if I talk to my CFO, unfortunately. If I talk to what we are supposed to do, fortunately. That doesn't come back to CIMMYT.
So there's no feedback mechanism right now. We need to every year get our budget back together from countries, from foundations, from donations. 50%, as I mentioned, 60%, as I mentioned, and 80 million farmers are benefiting from those improved seeds practices.
Now, what those improved practices can mean is as much as can be shown here. I think you all-- if you are in agriculture, you're familiar with fall armyworm. If you're a farmer, you're very familiar here in the US with fall armyworm. If you go to Iowa, farmers will say, I know, and it's solved because of the varieties. If you ask a farmer in Africa, do you know, fall armyworm, he has no clue about it, never seen it. It wasn't there. It didn't exist.
And so fall armyworm took a plane, probably with somebody-- there was a conscious international decision to not find out who that somebody was or from where he was-- and took the disease, and it spread it like wildfire because none of those varieties were resistant to that. And it basically took out much of the crop. So we have a whole setup now to look into maize resistant to fall armyworm.
I was actually hoping that Ronnie was going to be here because he set up a Ug99-- the Global Rust Initiative, which, if we look at it today, was actually COVID for wheat. So all of a sudden, Ug99, a new rust disease, came up. It's like all of a sudden, COVID came up. Probably some of us are resistant to COVID, but we don't know yet. It would be nice to understand who that is because we can do probably something with that.
Same for wheat-- some wheats probably are resistant. But the majority of wheat grown before '99-- Ug99 was found in Uganda, Uganda in '99. That's why the rust was called Ug99. So all the wheat that was grown globally on big areas was not resistant to Ug99. So potentially, that would have been a disaster for the wheat crop. And you cannot ask wheat to wear a mouth mask, so it would have been very complex.
So what CIMMYT did together with Cornell was a rapid identification of who of those crops of those seeds in the gene bank were actually resistant to Ug99. We incorporated that in the new seeds. And we replaced the majority of the wheat grown globally with those Ug99-resistant varieties. So that is what it is about.
Gene bank is also about safeguarding the biodiversity for those that lose that biodiversity. So we were discussing this morning there's areas in Mexico in the south, for example, where the original maize varieties got lost because of drought, because of war, because of conflict, because of whatever the reason is. We then sent-- we rematriate that seed back or those original crops back to those communities.
And more and more, we are combining genomic data, which actually means the gene, the information, with the phenotypic data, which means how you look like or how you function, and try to find adapted varieties for heat, drought, and cold, stress.
Now, that's not enough. A seed it on its own cannot do much. You have to put it in a context. You have to put it in a certain way. You have to plant it responsibly. And Johannes knows that for sure as a soil expert, that the soil is as important as the seed that you plant in the soil.
So we do a lot of agri-food system transformation, per se. But the soil is only the soil, and the seed is only the seed. There is that human being that is combining both. So the entry point is through the empowerment of farmer as an innovator in that system that can actually bring those elements together.
How do we do that? We use for that what we call an innovation hub approach, which is basically the integration of the science exercise into an innovation network working with the actors of the value chain. So Cornell would probably be sitting here somewhere in this graph. That basically means that we take basic research insights. But also, I understand then, Geneva, you have some long-term trials or some longer-term experiments.
That's what we call platforms. This is where you look at how can we combine that seed with the optimal practices to plant the seed and to produce in a very controlled environment. So here basically nothing happens, very nice for a scientist, side-by-side, minimum three replications, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
From here, we take that knowledge actually to-- we invite farmers here. We take it to what we call modules, or these are side-by-side farmer-led experimentation. So it now goes into the reality. So here an elephant can run through the experiment because it's obviously not fenced, or many externalities can happen.
From these side-by-side comparisons, we go then to farmer implementation. And here we have on-site sensors who send data back. So this is the real reality, no experiment anymore. And then from there, we hope farmers apply.
And then you see this weird thing here on the top. This is actually an actor network-- farmers, providers, scientists that actually work together in organized way. And this piece is as important as these pieces. And probably, this piece on its own is important, but this one here is probably as important as it is the knowledge exchange, per se, around the system.
Outcomes of these efforts-- you can compare here same seed, same planting date, same machine. Everything is the same. The only difference is the left side is conservation agriculture. The right side is what conventionally farmers are doing because they're under pressure.
So this is maize monoculture. This is plowing a lot, and it's burning the residue. But this site here is crop rotation. It is a zero-till-based system, and it is leaving at least part of the crop residue in the field. And so you can see the difference.
Does that difference look always like that? I've said it before. You need to choose your pictures wisely when you give a presentation. It looks like this in a dry year. But every three years, there's a dry year in this environment. When it's not a dry year, both probably look equally.
Now, for a farmer, this is not only a dry year. This is a year where he made a debt. So this is a year where the investment didn't come back. And that still has influences on those two other years.
So in general, we look at sustainable agriculture. And these are the averages of 300,000 farms in South Asia where we could see 5% to 10% higher yields in the system, 15% to 56% increased profitability, up to 70% irrigation water savings, labor savings, energy savings, and CO2 savings.
How does such a system look like? This a map of today in Mexico. Every red dot is such a module, innovative farmer. Every green dot is a farmer that replicates. And every blue dot is a farmer we don't know where he or she comes from but is taking over those technologies. So the red and the green dots give us information in real time that we then can map, use, and interpret.
The impact on the ground is very clear. This is a picture from Chiapas from 0.9 tons per hectare to 3.8. This is the experiment. Now we have the data, 7.4 and 2 tons. So you can see it's very different what you see in a controlled environment, what you see on a farmer's environment. And then very important in the Peninsula Yucatan and Oaxaca, we are working with farmers, working with way more diversified maize milpa systems where we combine scientific knowledge and traditional knowledge together and actually extract concepts and methods from both.
Very important effort on scale appropriate mechanization-- this sounds a bit counterintuitive. But mechanization is a very important element in order to generate aggregation, in order to bring business to the farmers, in order to actually look at the interaction between animal traction in those systems and how carbon-efficient that is in efficient systems, where probably here we have to optimize with all your smart technology and ideas even more in the future.
There's a very important component of social inclusion and social systems around what we do here. And those of you that are more from the anthropology side will probably read a lot only in this picture about how families are constituted and how power relations are developed.
As a last step of this whole system, more and more, we are looking at the last mile, which is this picture here. Can we then use those farmers and connect them, aggregate them, and make them an actor in that value chain? And so we are working on a lot of projects, actually, with the private sector with Kellogg, Bimbo, Heineken beer, Nestlé, et cetera.
And what we did was work with those companies to convince them that for business continuity, it was smarter to actually diversify your sourcing, not source it only from big farmers in one area, but actually source from big farmers, but complement with local sourcing with smaller farmers. And we are providing the data to those companies about carbon footprint, water footprint, sustainability indicators, and resilience of that system of supply.
Why is that important? Because that on its turn shows how resilient the business continuity is from a value chain perspective. We started to do that before COVID-19 through a collaboration looking at the value of insurance for business continuity. So the more diversified your business continuity is, the lower your insurance for business continuity is as a company, because we made sure that that was taken into account. Obviously, now with COVID, it even became more clear how vulnerable our supply chains actually are.
And this is an important learning for me that I want to highlight. How can we work from an efficiency paradigm to a resilience paradigm? And so there may be decisions that are not the right ones to take under an efficiency paradigm, but they may be the right ones to take on a resilience paradigm. And how do we put value on those two? And how do we make resilience as actually an evaluation point, per se?
Because if you're here to my story, we turned resilience into efficiency, because by making the insurance more expensive, if it's not resilient, you actually put an efficiency element there because people want to keep costs as low as possible. But can we actually go to a paradigm where resilience, per se, becomes a decision paradigm?
So to wrap it up, we actually move from healthy diets and affordable diets here all the way to the consumer. And we start with the biodiversity. We do targeted breeding, the right seed, the right way to produce, self-consumption. But it obviously goes into a market, which can be a regional market or a global market that goes into the processing, and then the farm-- the consumer makes decisions.
And, obviously, a farmer can also be consumer. And underpinning, there is a very important data system which can report as well on the SDGs, which are the Sustainable Development Goals, as it can report on some of the indicators that you may want to know for decision making or some of the information you may want to know for decision making.
So we do this in Africa with very successful results in Zimbabwe, for example, where we could increase the income, where we could improve productivity, and where we could basically reduce spending for farmers. If we go to Asia, a whole effort on reducing the need for labor or the need for the use of machines through innovative machinery-- Latin America, 300,000 farmers on 1 million hectares.
And this is where I was going to leave my presentations at [INAUDIBLE] two weeks ago. However, today I want to add a couple more slides because of recent events. There was a smart person not so long ago in 1867 who said, "If you do not think about the future, you cannot have one." And this probably means-- that's one element.
Second element is you have especially to think about the future when you are in a tuna environment. And a tuna environment means turbulence, unpredictability, uncertainty, ambiguity, and novelty. And with the big crisis between Russia and Ukraine, and the big climate crisis happening, that's for sure where we are today.
So if we want to have a future, we probably have to no longer manage our present from the past, but manage our present from a vision of the future. And the question is, what is that vision of the future? There were a lot of pledges in COP 13, the climate change rounds, saying, I will give $5 million. I will give $100 million. I will do this. I will do that. But that was actually a projection from the past to start improving the present.
And what the general population is hearing is, they're going to take away my car. I'm no longer going to take a plane to a very exotic island because it's going to be more expensive. Very soon, the support for anything we want to do around climate change may break through if we are not capable as a society to say, what does the better future look like? And that future value hopefully is twice as much as the current one, so that we can then, from that future, start back-costing to the present.
We did a very similar exercise when COVID hit and we said, can we make scenarios for the future on how the world would look like? What are possible world views that may emerge out of this event? And can we then-- then you can do two things if you have those world views, and I'm not going to go too much in detail. But there were four world views. And actually, you can see right now some of those unfolding.
There's the green evolution, which means you have an evolution towards more green elements, which we could see in some of the political agendas in this country. You have others that is around protectionism, global decline, and the new local. This scenario, for example, said there will be an unexpected war somewhere in the world, which disrupts this one here.
When we wrote it, we thought, wow, that's a bit far-fetched, and so this is where I was going to leave my presentation three weeks ago. And I decided a week ago-- or actually, yesterday-- to add a couple of other slides because it reminded me of another scenario we made.
We made a scenario to show the value of CIMMYT's work, how important it is to keep those new seeds coming out, to keep those new systems working, how important that is. And we were scratching our head-- how can we show the value of that impact that you're not seeing? It's kind of-- when you avoid a terrorist attack, how do you attract investment in that because people are not seeing the avoidance of a disaster?
So we did that through a scenario where we said, what happens if we take an El Niño year, we take the Ug99 at the same time, and we combine, and we take warmer temperatures, which are all plausible things that can happen, and we put them all together? So if you have an El Niño year, which means severe droughts, and you have Ug99, which means production capability goes down because of the disease, and you have warmer temperatures at the same time what would happen?
And the outcome was that global production losses would be 7% for wheat, 10% for maize, 11% for soybean, and 7% for rice. And the outcome of that would mean four times price increases for those three crops, and five times for rice.
Now, what is very important is-- and I didn't say that-- this scenario is for wheat, only for wheat. So the impact of this is on wheat. The outcome of that is on the four crops. Why? Because they're substitution and they're heavily, heavily connected. And the real outcome is a humanitarian crisis, food riots.
And up to here, we did this for Lloyd's of London. Actually, Lloyd's of London was still not so interested. But when this came up, 10% reduction in the EU stock market and 5% in the US, that means a lot of money. And if you know that CIMMYT has $120 million budget yearly, it's almost ridiculous, right? So we hope that will work.
Now, if you look at that, that's no longer a scenario. Today we have a war or a conflict between Russia and the Ukraine. Now, remember, in my scenario, 7% of the wheat production would go down. Now, where is wheat produced in the world? The top five producers of wheat are Canada, the US-- we have a bit in Europe, but then especially Russia, and so, number five, the Ukraine. As we speak, wheat is planted, and it needs to be harvested. But I think people in the Ukraine are doing something else right now than thinking about the harvest of that wheat.
Now, where is that wheat going? Sorry, that's for Ukraine. Also in Russia, where is the wheat going? So you can see that here. So Ukraine, wheat is basically going where you can see here those countries. These are very highly dependent on Ukraine wheat-- also, Middle East, very highly dependent. If we go here for Russia, several very unstable African countries depending on Russian wheat. And obviously, South Asia, also several of the wheat import goes there. Now, how much of that import it is, it's quite a huge amount. So you cannot immediately substitute that with what is coming from the US.
So now some of those countries-- if you have a visual memory, try to make a visual photograph of this one. Try to make a visual photograph of this one. If we go to the countries that already are food hunger spots in the February to May 2022 outlook, those are-- several of those countries were already hotspots without this impact from the war.
This is really concerning. If we look at prices, prices for wheat are going up. Prices for fertilizer are going up. I'm not showing you the map, but nitrogen fertilizer, a lot of that comes from Russia. And the current sanctions are avoiding trade. Russia and the Ukraine have declared they will not export any of their wheat out of measures of prevention. So those exports are stopped even if they're harvested. And so the fertilizer company Yara, which many of you may know, already has declared that they will not have enough fertilizer to fulfill their requests from their clients for the coming season.
So prices of fertilizer go up. Prices of grain go up. If wheat goes up, maize goes up, and then you have the oil crops that will also go up. So as well Ukraine as Russia are also oil crop producers.
Now, everybody is probably here in this country discussing the gas price because it's directly connected to consumer prices. Here you have a value chain in the middle, so it takes a little bit time before the food prices in the supermarket are going to go up. But it's not going to take for long. Food prices go faster up in those countries that have less of an industry around that, yes? So those North African countries that are more direct consumers of the bread and the products that come out of that.
So what do we need to do? We probably have to do short-term, long-term solutions, and they go hand in hand. Yes, immediately we need the World Food Program to do crisis relief and to ensure immediate help. But while they do that, we don't want their intervention to avoid an opportunity for resilience in the future. So we need to make sure together that they do those interventions in such a way that, on the one hand, we prepare for the future of those countries that now need the grain, on the other hand, that we get the data back so we can generate a feedback loop of those interventions.
At the same time, let's maintain what CIMMYT, Cornell is doing-- the right varieties, the right systems of production-- so those other areas don't fall down and go down in the current system. And while we do that, let's transform from efficiency to resilience. Several of those importing countries can perfectly produce wheat. Wheat is originally from the Middle East.
Several of the maize-importing countries-- Mexico, Central America are huge maize-importing countries. Maize comes from Mexico, so they can produce the maize. But under an efficiency paradigm, it's easier to ship it by a boat. But under a resilience paradigm, it may make sense to do that different.
Now, if some of those countries want to do that, they will need us to make strategic planning. Where should that maize go? Where should that wheat go? And let's then please take into account that in 2050 there's climate change. So those systems need to be future-proofed. If we're going to plan for it, let's put them there where it makes sense not only today, but also in 2050.
This is a huge opportunity in the crisis. And then we need to make sure that there's tactical planning. What's the public sector going to do? What's the private sector going to do? Because public money cannot do the same as private sector money. And if we don't agree on it, we're going to have same disasters that we have seen in some other interventions. We need to make clear what's the role of each of us in this plan. And let's then operate, and there's many that can help us operate.
So this needs to happen at the same time. We cannot switch off one system based on efficiency and switch up the other, because if we switch off one and switch on the other, there's at least a microsecond of complete darkness. So we will have to do it in parallel processes.
In a way, let's repeat that agriculture can be there for peace. So we can do agriculture for peace. Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, and you cannot build peace on empty stomachs. So this war is only getting worse if people are going to be hungry. It was only when we saw the Arab Spring that the Pentagon got interested in the impact of climate change on food security as part of planning for global security and national security, as a matter of fact, which is in exactly the same areas that are going to be affected by this crisis.
Now, we did it once. Ug99 was going to devastate huge amount of wheat crops. CIMMYT and Cornell came together and made the Global Borlaug Rust Initiative. We came out. We advocated. We combined our capabilities. So my question is, can we do that again? Can the two organizations come back together and make strong coalition of the willing?
Now, I will be stronger than that. The two organizations are making strategic planning exercises. I think it's called here Project 2030, or a project looking at climate change. What does that mean for the organization? Can we do strategic planning? CIMMYT's doing strategic planning for 2100. What do we need to be if we want to be relevant in 2100?
I am convinced, if today we don't come out and we make a coalition of the willing and we say, this is what we can do right now to what is happening now, whatever strategic exercise we come up with in a year and a half, people will say, thank you very much. It looks very nice, very glossy, fantastic. But where were you when we need it? So if we want to be relevant, and if we want to have the moral ground to reinvent ourselves to be relevant in 2050, we better do something today about this current crisis, which is so close to the capabilities we have.
So I think there's a huge opportunity of gelling this collaboration quickly, fast. And the worst we can do is simply do nothing. Thank you very much.
JOHANNES LEHMANN: Thank you very much, Bram. Yeah, we'll have question time. If you have some comments or suggestions, some questions, please speak up.
BRAM GOVAERTS: Sure.
AUDIENCE: You mentioned a couple or several times the transformation we should make between the focus on efficiency to resilience. And as a crop scientist, I think of efficiency in terms like water use efficiency, nitrogen use efficiency. And when I think about resilience, I'm trying to think, well, as a crop scientist, maybe that would infer stress tolerance, like drought, perhaps heat stress tolerance. But maybe I'm too narrow because I'm only thinking of the crop science. So I wonder if you could elaborate on what you would include in this transformation.
BRAM GOVAERTS: Yeah. I think when I say a shift from efficiency to resilience, it's broader than-- and so in resilience, there's actually a component of efficiency. But it's not the main-- it's not the only component here. So I'm not advocating for-- let me say it a bit different. It's the same between efficiency and effectiveness, right? I think in some times-- in this crisis, for example-- we need to be first effective, and then efficient.
It is not difficult to be efficiently ineffective. That's actually very easy to do. So it's very similar to, if we want to shift from the efficiency to the resilience, I'm seeing that more, like, at the system level, where we are taking decisions that optimize and optimize and optimize. And it's a bit like, OK, can we keep building bigger ships that are shipping, right?
So every day is bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger ships, until one ship does like that, and it blocks completely one transportation spot. And we are not resilient, because the whole world screams, it's one ship in one place, yeah? Now I'm getting really scared, because then, actually, if I was a superpower and I wanted to hurt the world, it's not much you need to do, no? One bomb in one place, and apparently that will have a huge, huge impact.
So can we-- it made sense to keep increasing the size of our ships from an efficiency standpoint. But what you win in efficiency, you need to calculate, because what happens that one moment where your resilience is broken down-- the costs of those probably outweigh many more the cost of that momentarily efficiency play. But it doesn't mean you become inefficient.
I'm not sure-- you allow for certain immediate losses because it makes sense for to create a resilient system. But it will change a lot of-- have to change a lot of the way we look at things. And I think it can help to use elements that we actually know, which is design thinking. Design thinking does everything you want as long as you look at where you start from, right?
Design thinking is not, per se, necessarily designing for efficiency. That depends-- if you put that as a starting point, it will design for efficiency. But if you put as a starting point, we want to design for resilience, the same concepts can be applied, and actually levy what comes out of that. Or a lot of the scenario building will actually help with looking at it from a lens of more resilience, because if you paint a future that you want, the value of that future becomes bigger if you can see it than if you just take only a view of the present, yeah?
And so efficiency is a lot in the present. But if you have that future view, that may be a way of actually automatically bringing in a perspective of resilience. And it's true systems thinking in the end that we will look at that. Sure.
AUDIENCE: Could you talk a little bit more about what your farmer-led research looks like and how that connects back to the stuff that's happening in research centers and universities?
BRAM GOVAERTS: Sure. So the farmers center, it's farmer-led research. It's about working with those 300,000 farmers in different levels of engagement-- not that I go and visit 300,000 farmers. That would not be possible, but setting up the systems so you get those feedback loops and that information. And it is not one against the other. If you see in the system, you have controlled experiments because that gives you the clarity of the system.
It takes out the noise. And that helps a lot with those that then need to interpret this big cloud of data that is coming, and you need to make sense out of that. So I'm convinced, if we combine this more traditional way of working as kind of a guidance on how to look in this big noise of data that you can probably move in-- yeah, I'm imagining a 3D, and that's already limited, right? Data today is 4D, 5D, but I cannot imagine it.
So if you have this 3D cloud, probably the data from your more controlled experiment helps you to maximize how you should look at that or how you could look at the 3D cloud. At the same time, your traditional signs, you need to then be aware you probably imprinted a framework in that original experiment.
So one of the things I think we need to be way more explicit about is what is that implicit framework that you imprinted in the design of your experiment. And for agriculture, what does that mean? And on Wednesday, which is, I think, tomorrow, I will go a bit more in detail on very concrete results on that-- is many of the experiments you do as an agronomist have an implicit imprint of yield. But if you ask a farmer, that's not always the maximization factor they want to look at.
So I think you need to make very explicit, I designed this experiment to maximize yield, because that's already in a way showing the framework on how you're then going to look at the other cloud of data. And I think we need to be more disciplined about saying, OK, that's only one view. I can look at the cloud of data from a, I don't know, nutrition standpoint, or-- it all depends on where you want to start from.
So how are universities connected? So that farmer-centered research, I don't do it as CIMMYT on my own. It's 150 partners around that, and all of them have a space in the continuum. So if I can make a list of wishes, I would wish to work with the Cornell computational capability that could actually take this cloud and probably multiply it by applying, I don't know, artificial intelligence, self-learning, whatever.
But I also would like to work with the plant science department so it can help me to breed better crops that can fit into the system, or with the mechanization department, or the sensor department, or the arts department so they can tell the story of that ideal future we want. I hope that responds a bit to your question. So look at it as a gigantic experiment in which you can make sub-experiments about whatever you want. Sorry.
AUDIENCE: So I'm here to start my undergraduate career and then go on to do science, and that's kind of how I've always thought of agriculture in my clinic. But as you've been touched on, there are these other limiting spheres of policy, of consumer demand, that it sometimes feels like, as a scientist, you can't really touch. You can't influence that.
And this feels especially relevant with coronavirus and this whole aspect of how far can the science take us until you get these other things that science can't really impact, like new cultures and stuff. So I guess my question for you is, is that a new phenomenon? Is it a valid assessment? I'm kind of naive on this. And how do you see that in your work?
Yeah. I don't think that's new. I think it's inherent to human beings that you ask those questions, and I think it's very healthy. But my response would be, never think that what you do is not relevant. It's only by what we all do that things happen. If the whole world says what I do is not relevant, nothing's going to happen. So your particular science is very, very relevant.
And that can actually be researching something that you say, I don't see an immediate application. The best application comes from research that didn't see an immediate application. Also fine if you're more comfortable with saying, I want to see that immediate application. But that's way more about what you as an individual satisfies you so you do that scientific work better than the relevance, per se, of it in the bigger story.
What I would invite you is keep your-- don't close yourself off, but make sure you get the information from outside. And then you can still take the decision to say, OK, I'm going to research this very upstream, I don't know, understanding of the physics particles. That's fine, and it's going to be relevant if we decide to make it relevant into the broader story. If you go off on your own and you close yourself up and you keep whatever comes out for yourself, then that's probably more the issue than the research exercise, per se. I hope that makes sense.
JOHANNES LEHMANN: Great. I think we're a little bit over time now--
BRAM GOVAERTS: I'm sorry.
JOHANNES LEHMANN: --though this is wonderful. Thank you very much for the questions. And thank you so much for Bram for for enlightening us today.
And if you wish to connect with Bram during this week, he's still here until Friday. So we'll still linger a few minutes if you have other questions. And he's giving another seminar talk tomorrow from the Global Development seminar series at 12:25. And then on Thursday, we have a panel discussion with Anna Davidson, Neema Kudva, Bram Govaerts, obviously, Prabhu Pingali, on Mario Herrero at the Soil Factory. So you are all very welcome to come there as well. Thank you very much, and have a good evening.
We've received your request
You will be notified by email when the transcript and captions are available. The process may take up to 5 business days. Please contact email@example.com if you have any questions about this request.
Govaerts is the Director General a.i. (Secretary General and CEO) of International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). 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-stakeholder and cross-sectoral strategies. His leadership in scientific and development initiatives has inspired novel collaborations and resulted in improved nutrition, nature conservation, and national and international resilience and food security. Govaerts has defined an integrated approach toward excellence in science for impact, carried out through partnerships emphasizing on capacity building. He is known for his energy, vision, and innovation in food products and production especially for small, rural farms. He integrates academic research with successful practices developed by real-world organizations, utilizing 21st-century social networking systems to move forward in his efforts. His work is geared toward transforming subsistence agriculture and failed farming systems into productive and sustainable production units. He is considered to be a major innovator in the agro-sustainability movement, embracing modern practices while integrating traditional farmer knowledge and efforts worldwide as a means to influence and guide the future of farming. These efforts are recognized as critical to rural livelihoods, food safety, nutrition, nature conservation, and regional and national security. This event is part of Govaert’s first visit as an A.D. White Professor-at-Large (ADW-PAL) to Cornell. He was elected as an ADW-PAL in 2019. His appointment runs through 2025.