Insights from industry

Investing in Research for a New Agricultural Revolution

Liam Condon, Chief Executive Officer of Bayer CropScience and Chairman of the Board of Management of Bayer CropScience AG talks to AZoCleantech about Investing in Research for Greener Agriculture.

How do you plan on cultivating new ideas and answers to freeze our environmental footprint?

We have to improve harvest yields and plant quality while keeping the use of water, fertilizers and pesticides to an ideal minimum. To this end, we need to combine all approaches: cropland management, modern crop protection based on both novel chemical and biological approaches as well as biotechnology, where it makes sense.

Bayer CropScience is prepared with an integrated competence in chemistry and biology. And these solutions have to be really adapted to the social and environmental conditions where they are applied. This is what we mean when we are talking about “integrated solutions”.

How do you plan on forging a closer collaboration between the private and public sector in order to encourage a sustainable society for food security and nutrition and the protection of the environment?

Indeed, this task is so big that no government, no company or group of companies is big enough to tackle it alone. On the one hand, our innovations alone are not the only solution: The state needs to play a key role in terms of governance, to make sure the right rules are in place, that things are getting done in the right way.

On the other hand, we are constantly looking for partners in the private and the public scientific community – to exchange knowledge and experience.

Can you discuss the five-point plan to a new or “greener” revolution in agriculture?

We need a holistic approach to farm our land better, with a view to driving higher agricultural yields in a more sustainable way. To help achieve this, we propose a five point plan for a step change in farming, a “new revolution in agriculture”.

The major aspects are: enabling innovation investments – by promoting the benefits of R&D; empowering farmers – by providing them with adequate market conditions to invest in technology and training; ensuring minimal environmental impact – by developing sustainable crop solutions and climate-smart approaches; and finally enhancing people’s health – by boosting the nutritional value of crops and expanding partnerships – with a sharpened focus on sustained execution.

Why have you based your research on including plant-breeding techniques that focus on stress-tolerance, and biological crop protection?

Climate change is a reality, and the effect on agriculture is clear: For example, data are suggesting that global yields for wheat between 1980 and 2008 were lowered by nearly 6% because of the temperature and precipitation trends. So we have to address this. And we are on the verge of a new era in biological understanding. Biologics can play an important role: they are an opportunity for a new wave of agricultural inputs.

What technology will make a sustainable difference in helping to ensure food security?

Not just one –it’s about the combination of all smart solutions. And it’s not just about introducing a new trait or active ingredient: it’s about the whole system of good agricultural practice. Any innovation must be embedded in this system – e.g., in the rotation of crops and modes of action of herbicides.  

There is a growing need to allow farmers in developing continents to establish an “agripreneurs” approach. How do you see this change taking place and what will be the key drivers for this change?  

Smallholder farmers – especially in developing countries – are still not receiving the support, training and technology they need to leverage their full potential. We need to empower them with the skills to sustainably pilot their own future success. For example, this includes working with public partners to provide innovative farmer shops, as well as agro-stewardship training.

Some examples from India: We support cotton farmers in the state of Rajasthan by supplying seed and the expertise for efficient crop protection. As a result, they have doubled their yields. At the same time, the introduction of insect-resistant BT cotton has reduced the number of applications of insecticides and this reduced the costs for the farmers. In Karnataka, we help farmers produce better cucumbers. This has boosted their income up to 15 percent. In two other Indian states, we promote the use of hybrid rice, which yields up to 30 percent more and thus also improves farmers' income.

Can you discuss your Model Village concept in India and how this is an example of empowering farmers in this country?

This new program offers farmers a host of benefits including: productivity-boosting know-how and tools; weather-insurance schemes and price information; access to plant protection agents and animal health products; drip irrigation systems; as well as information technology-based training. We are planning to roll-out this project across 400 Indian villages.

We have already contracts with cotton seed producers across several hundred villages in India. They are the initial focus of our Model Village project. Farmers will be offered crop insurance schemes and we’ll make it easier for them to access the market without the middle men. At the same time, we'll improve education and training opportunities for their children and pass on our knowledge of sustainable farming practices to boost productivity.

How do the farmers benefit from this concept in the overall scheme of creating a new revolution in agriculture?

They will benefit from new solutions on the one hand – and also from knowledge on the other. Farming of the future will be increasingly knowledge-driven: knowledge about sustainable production systems, carbon sequestration, conservation of biodiversity and new strategies for soil and water management will have a significantly positive impact on farmers worldwide.

How do you plan on increasing focus on climate-smart solutions?

With a focus of R&D on climate change in all our fields of expertise: Novel crop protection products against abiotic stress to increase crop yields; with Biologics and also improved Seeds.

How would you compare the current state of a greener agriculture in the developed world compared to the developing world? Where do you see the largest scope for developing a greener agriculture?

To make agriculture more sustainable is a task for the whole world, and the challenges are enormous everywhere: In the developed world we are dealing, for example, with weed resistance; in developing countries with a low productivity.

What projects is Bayer CropScience currently working on to enhance the nutritional status of crops in the world of agriculture?

It is not acceptable that every third child lacks vitamins and minerals. Simply improving nutrition can boost the GDP of poor countries by 2-3%, which can help drive further economic growth (e.g., we are supporting a project run by Harvest Plus – an organization whose major focus is on enhancing the nutritional value of crops).  

What are the wider challenges ahead for the plan to create a new revolution in agriculture?

After almost 10,000 years, the Neolithic revolution is coming to an end. Until recently, the majority of mankind all over the world was working in agriculture. In many countries this is, for the first time in history, not the case anymore, and many people especially in the western world know very little about agriculture.

They take food for granted and are not aware that our whole civilization is based on agriculture, how fragile the system is, and how urgent the need for investments. But without this understanding and public support it is difficult for scientist and researchers to go ahead.

Where can our readers find more information on your current project and Bayer CropScience?

Readers can find further information at our company website.

About Liam Codon

Liam Codon

Liam Condon is Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Bayer CropScience and Chairman of the Board of Management of Bayer CropScience AG since December 1, 2012.

Liam Condon was born in Dublin, Ireland, on February 27, 1968. He studied International Business at the Dublin City University and – as a scholarship holder of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) – at the Technical University of Berlin. In the past 20 years, Condon has held positions of increasing responsibility in the Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals Division in Europe and Asia.

He worked in various marketing and sales positions at Schering in Germany, before he spent 5 years as Head of the Business Unit in Osaka, Japan. From 2002 to 2004 he worked as Regional Marketing and Medical Director for the Region Asia-Pacific/Middle East of Schering, based in Berlin.

In 2005, Condon was appointed Managing Director of Schering China. From 2007 until 2009 he was Managing Director of Bayer HealthCare China and Bayer Pharma General Manager for China. Since January 2010, Condon has been Managing Director of Bayer Vital GmbH, Leverkusen, and Head of the Bayer Pharmaceutical business in Germany.

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