Debate: what role will technology play in the future of food security?

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Food Security Debate


World hunger is on the rise. Today, over 820 million people are undernourished, and the number is growing, with conflict and climate change exacerbating food insecurity and crises around the world.

The vast majority of undernourished people live in developing regions. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, almost a quarter of the population suffered from chronic food deprivation in 2017.  
By 2050, there will be another 2 billion people on the planet. The threat of climate change and extreme weather events will make it even harder to grow enough good, well-balanced food for a world population racing towards the 9 billion mark. Producing more food also carries climate risks of its own, ripping through vast amounts of fuel, land and water at unsustainable rates.
So what can be done?
On Tuesday 13 November at 14:00 hours (GMT), SciDev.Net hosted the second of four online debates examining key issues in science for development. We brought together those on the front line of farming and research to discuss the future of food security and agriculture, in a world running out of resources. At the heart of these discussions will be the role of technology in food production and climate resilience, and how to put the right tools, tech and training into the hands of farmers.

The panellists

Radha Ahlstrom-Vij, global head of brand, Wefarm, UK/East Africa 
Radha is Global Head of Brand at Wefarm, the world’s largest farmer-to-farmer digital network. At Wefarm, Radha is responsible for leading marketing, brand and communications strategy across the U.K., U.S. and East Africa. She started her career as a journalist and holds degrees from Vassar College and Columbia University in the US.
Dr Bernard Bett, senior scientist, International Livestock Research Institute, Kenya
Bernard is a veterinarian with a postgraduate training on epidemiology, co-leads research on emerging infectious diseases at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). His competencies include infectious disease modeling, participatory epidemiology, design and implementation of analytical studies and disease surveillance. His current research focuses on the impacts of climate, land use and biodiversity changes on the occurrence and transmission of infectious diseases, especially those that are transmissible between animals and people. 
Dr Roger Day, programme executive, Action on Invasives, Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), Kenya 
Roger has over 30 years’ experience of living and working in tropical agriculture in Africa and Asia covering research, development and capacity building. His specialist areas include biological control, phytosanitary systems and international standards, integrated pest management and entomology. He has experience of information and knowledge systems including participatory and community based approaches such as Farmer Field Schools, national systems of innovation and also communication and knowledge management strategies.
Rikin Gandhi, executive director, Digital Green, US/global
Gandhi is co-founder and executive director of Digital Green, a global development organisation that empowers 1.5 million smallholder farmers across South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa by harnessing the collective power of technology and grassroots-level partnerships. He began his career at Oracle, where he received patents for linguistic search algorithms that he helped develop. Later, he joined Microsoft Research India’s Technology for Emerging Markets team, where he researched ways to amplify the effectiveness of agricultural development globally. Gandhi developed a passion for helping India’s rural farmers and in 2006 co-founded Digital Green. Gandhi holds an MS in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a BS in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University.
Onyaole Patience Koku, entrepreneur and farm manager, Nigeria 
Patience is an entrepreneur with over 20 years’ experience in agriculture, including founding and running a 12,000 bird poultry farm and trading poultry within Nigeria and internationally. Since 2012, she has farmed crops – maize, seed and grain – commercially on 500 hectares of land, using centre pivot irrigation. Onyaole is on the  board of several companies, including Replenish Farms Ltd and 1 hectare 1 family Nig Ltd, a company that is working towards cropping 200,000 hectares of land in the next 5 years and improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers by granting them access to mechanisation, innovation and technology. She is also on the board of Yieldwise Seeds, a company dedicated to growing good quality seed for farmers. Onyaole is a graduate of political science.
Anastasia Mbatia, Agriculture Technical Manager, Farm Africa, East Africa 
Anastasia is an experienced agriculturalist with over 15 years’ experience in the private and NGO sectors. Anastasia’s role at Farm Africa requires her to devise and deliver agronomic solutions that help smallholder farmers push up the quantity and quality of produce, whilst protecting the environment and building climate resilience. Anastasia is an accredited Fertilizer and Crop Protection Adviser and a certified trainer in Integrated Pest Management and Quality Management Systems. 
James Somi, farmer and headmaster, Tanzania


Imogen Mathers, producer at SciDev.Net


1. What do you see as the main challenges to food security for a global population heading towards 9 billion by 2050?
2. What types of technology can help farmers in developing countries meet these challenges?
3. What are the best ways of ensuring technology is accessible to farmers?
4. What about tensions between the drive to produce more food on the one hand, and the need to practice ecologically sound, organic farming on the other? How do you see these tensions play out and what can be done about them?
5. Agricultural ecologist Sir Gordon Conway says “You’ve got to understand cultures before you can make changes.” How does culture affect the uptake of agricultural technology? What can be done to ensure an understanding of culture is integrated into tech access and training?
6. How does gender affect the uptake of agricultural technology? What can be done to ensure gender is given proper attention when developing, promoting and training people in using technology? Do you have any good examples of this?
7. What about innovation created by farmers themselves: what kinds of innovation exists? How could international aid and national governments be more supportive of farmer-led innovation?
8. What about the threats posed by new technologies – for example, new irrigation technique creating conditions for disease; or farmers becoming indebted to agribusiness. How valid are these concerns?
9. Finally, what would be your five-point action plan for ensuring food security and nutrition in years to come?

 hashtag #SciDevDebate