Science and innovation for a resilient food system



The Manila Times


First of two parts THE current disruptions on the global food system caused by the current geopolitical crisis and climate change emphasized anew the need for every country to apply science and innovation in their own food systems. My reasoning here is simple — sustainable and resilient food systems have the potential to MAKE A COUNTRY self-sufficient at least in basic staples and rely less on food imports. Also, food sovereignty can also be achieved if science and innovation are used to level up domestic crop and livestock production. As early as 2006, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) under the United Nations said that there exists a 70-percent food gap between available calories from crops to the expected caloric demand by 2050. The gap may be lesser now. Nonetheless, the FAO recommends the following to close or even erase the food gap by increasing crop production through: making genetic improvements for crops; reducing food loss and waste; shifting diets; addressing soil fertility like restoring degraded land; and assuring water supply. Those are easier said than done as competition for resources to raise food crops — primarily arable land and fresh water — has increased over the decades. And we still see a wanton disregard by a big number of our fellow humans for our precious water and soil resources. I could even say that the fragility of the current global food system was exposed both by the Covid-19 pandemic and the current geopolitical crisis. And there seems to be no end to extreme weather events. Maybe we can say now that the global food system is facing the “perfect storm.” Unless we want more social unrest fueled by food shortages in various parts of the globe to worsen, we must start acting now or the soonest time possible to produce more food locally and globally by widely applying science and innovation. Science and innovation is usually associated with research and development, or R&D, which I believe has succeeded more in creating a mindset among some scientists that research outputs are also best kept in the shelves of institutions. For the troubled world we have now, scientists and researchers should reorient themselves to conduct research for development, or R4D, instead of R&D. Why do I say this? The reason is simple — I have seen a LOT OF scientific researches LYING in the shelves of institutions, hardly benefiting society or the public in general. Also, there should be more scientific researches for smallholders and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the agriculture sector that could be easily adopted by them and should benefit them from the short to long term. Science and innovation needed by smallholders and MSMEs in the agriculture sector also need not be “exotic” or needing complex equipment and complicated systems. The simpler the equipment and system needed, so much the better. However, this does mean that the beneficiaries of scientific solutions and innovations should forever be limited to adopting simple solutions and systems. Rather, the simple solutions and systems should allow them to adopt complex solutions over the medium to long term, and be trained to be more technologically savvy. This may also require getting the youth involved in an ecosystem where a technology or solution is adopted as the younger stakeholders or actors can initiate or accelerate the adoption of complex solutions in the future. More solutions from 4ID Let us also take note of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4ID) that offers viable solutions to level up agriculture through the adoption of digital technologies like blockchain, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things and quantum computing. 4ID also offers advanced technologies from the biological and mechanical realms which can help totally change or uproot inefficient systems or whole ecosystems. Take note that I used the word uproot. Looking to the totality, this is how science and innovation should be enhanced: it should be anchored on R4D; it should benefit smallholders and MSMEs in the agriculture sector; it should not require complex equipment and complicated systems to adopt; the system will allow the beneficiaries to adopt more complex solutions and technologies over the medium to short term; and, more importantly, it should result in the building of more sustainable and resilient food systems. Taking a proactive approach In my column published on Sept. 8, 2022 in The Manila Times (Building a resilient PH food system), I cited a paper from the World Food Program (WFP) released in November last year saying that the Philippines needs to take a proactive stand or approach in making its food system resilient to extreme weather conditions, or to “shift from recurrent crisis response to forward-looking climate risk management.” The last part of the WFP paper further states: “Solutions that address medium- to long-term climate risks are necessary to complement the groundbreaking disaster risk management initiatives being implemented in the Philippines at the moment, with key innovations being scaledup including forecast-based anticipatory actions to mitigate losses and damages from predictable climate hazards, and the development of lastmile climate information services that enable smallholder farmers to make informed decisions against climate variability and change.” Hence, when it comes to applying science and innovation, it is also best to think about the problems or issues cropping up in the agriculture sector caused by climate change. And I believe the country’s most competent scientists and researchers can do that in tandem with policymakers in both the executive and legislative branches of government. Furthermore, we should employ strategies and platforms on how to apply or disperse the products of R4D in the agriculture sector. That will be discussed in the second part of this column series. To be continued