How to Advocate and Distribute Agriculture Technology
Agriculture advocate Julie Borlaug says her famous grandfather Norman Borlaug was pressured to forgo his now-famous shuttle breeding technique because it was too expensive and failed to adhere to agriculture conventions of the time. But he persisted, eventually halving the time needed to breed new varieties. This breeding technique coupled with crossbred varieties yielded wheat stands that are credited with feeding a billion people.
“It was because of this new technology that he was able to breed [dwarf wheat that was resistant to rust] and why the Green Revolution was so successful,” she says. “It’s a perfect example of why technology was so important to my grandfather and why from that point forward he was such an outspoken supporter of technology. He always said there was no technology too advanced for a smallholder farmer.”
Julie Borlaug is Associate Director of External Relations at the Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture and also handles Strategic Initiatives for Corporate Relations with AgriLife Research at Texas A&M, where her grandfather was a Distinguished Professor of International Agriculture. She is a frequent public speaker who promotes modern agriculture and the proliferation of crop production technologies, and she will discuss these topics along with “The Borlaug Legacy” during her keynote presentation at the AgriBusiness Global Trade Summit in Orlando, Aug. 17-19.
Norman Borlaug was in his 30s when he championed shuttle breeding. Julie says it illustrates that you are never too young to have a solution to change the world, and also why Norman was such an outspoken supporter of technology going forward.
“He always said there was no technology too advanced for a smallholder farmer,” Julie says about her grandfather. “And I think if you look broadly at all the complexities and challenges that we are facing — to handle climate change and handle our limited natural resources and especially water issues — we are going to need drought-tolerant traits in maize and other crops and so many other things, and so it is technology that will
She says it is important to acknowledge that these technologies are not new, and crops have been modified throughout the history of humankind. Biotechnology, however, has become a lightning rod for all agriculture technology.
“I think we have to remind people that had we not had innovation in agriculture … then we wouldn’t have grown out of an agrarian economy and wouldn’t have the lifestyles that we have now,” she says. “We thought we could win the debate with science and the public would accept that this was important, but we haven’t.”
She says the industry must become more sophisticated with social media to connect with the general public, which opposition groups have been much better at. The anti-innovation/anti-technology groups have spent millions in clever ways to induce fear, and the public doesn’t understand enough of the issues to recognize the tactic.
“We need to simplify the message and make it more comprehensible. No one is going to read a three-page glossy report. It has to be through the avenue where people find their information now. And that of course is social media,” she says. “We need to allow the public to ask us any and every question, and we need to patiently engage in that dialogue.”
Julie Borlaug also discusses her work with NGOs around the world and how they engage with developing agriculture economies. She has worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, AGRA, and others in Africa, India, and elsewhere.
While NGOs have worked in many ways where they are active, they have failed to perpetuate food security throughout the countries and regions where they operate. After 40 years of transferring agronomic knowledge and capital, and establishing input value chains, NGOs and agriculture observers realize once these organizations leave, farmers revert back to old methods.
Now organizations are trying to be less duplicative in their efforts and concentrating more on establishing sustainable businesses that can support farmers in the long term. Public-private partnerships have been successful in making that change to instill endemic knowledge and infrastructure that will enable emerging economies to feed themselves and offer farmers a better quality of life.
Inputs play a key role. Seed, fertilizers, and crop protection products lay the foundation on which good agricultural practices can prosper. The proliferation of these rely on a mix of multinational investment and small-business development.
“Just like here in the United States, we have to have the small businesses and the growing businesses to move our economy forward, and now we realize that Africa has that,” she says. “So there are a bunch of small seed companies and other companies coming together and being built on. Then the multinational companies have really contributed to the growth of the private sector in those areas and really supported small businesses there.”
Syngenta, for example, created the first mobile-phone insurance application in Kenya, which has revolutionized how farmers acquire crop insurance. The Syngenta Foundation is working with a Kenyan-owned and operated company to distribute it and help it grow in use.”