Look for Answers to Ag Questions in Science

Posted in: Global Ag     

As I was preparing for the TEDx Talk I delivered in Red Deer this past November, I asked myself, can agriculture feed nine billion people? I believe the answer is a resounding yes, but as I watch events unfold around the planet, I believe the real question is not can we, but rather, will we be allowed to?

At the time of writing, my TEDx Talk has been viewed online more than 30,000 times (If you haven’t seen, it check out — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvFD6DRn0Cg). 

I would like to share some of my experiences leading up to that November 22 talk, and explain how they led me to wonder about agriculture’s ability to feed the world. 

I had just returned from two weeks in Africa where I participated in a couple of eye-opening tours. The first took place in Uganda and was led by some great people from Watoto Church, the second occured in Kenya with an organization called A Better World. Both groups are dedicated to helping people with practical life-changing solutions and leadership. 

On my previous trip to Kenya, I helped on a project to bring Internet connectivity to the remote Segera Mission Orphanage and I also did some assessments of garden production capability at various schools, clinics, and orphanages supported by A Better World. But this time was different, I arrived prepared. I brought some agronomic equipment to test soils from 10 locations throughout Kenya. One of my coolest experiences was in the Maasai Mara, when a Maasai warrior came over to help me clean out a soil probe clogged with clay! 

As we toured through Uganda and Kenya, I was struck by the challenges faced by some of the world’s poorest farmers. Seed fraud is a major issue — unscrupulous dealers package poor seed in fancy packs and sell at inflated margins. In North America, we take seed quality for granted, and are actually very lucky to have a system that supports seed integrity.

Talking to farmers who were working hard just to feed their families was a pretty humbling experience for this privileged Canadian agrologist. I saw that these farmers were willing to do whatever they could to grow a successful crop in the face of formidable odds. Farming in tropical and sub-tropical regions, they have the advantage of growing potentially more than one crop per year. However, the pressures from weeds, insects and diseases are tremendous. 

Disease and insects are particularly severe issues here. I saw banana groves so devastated by disease that farmers were burning their banana trees and importing bananas to feed their families. The cassava, a staple crop for many of the world’s poor, was becoming useless as it was attacked by virus that rots the tuber. And in Kenya, maize infected with lethal necrosis disease, vectored by two or three different insects, is turning crops into mycotoxin-infected poison. 

When I shared with farmers that there were companies working on a bio-technological GMO solution, they were all eager to seek the science. 

These ‘organic’ farmers are ready for some help. Using my soil tests, I was able to help them with better fertilizer recommendations. They want good quality seeds, including high-yielding hybrids, and they were ready to use pesticides that would help them in their fight. In short, they’re ready to embrace solutions from good agronomics through
to genetic engineering.

However, will they get it? Or will the propaganda perpetuated by special interest groups result in panic policy that will condemn the poorest farmers to perpetual poverty and push modern agriculture backwards? Will they be forced to lose out to an anti-science agenda that does not offer any solutions, and only promotes fear? 

My experiences in Africa prompted me to do three things:

•I wrote a letter that was hand-delivered to President Museveni of Uganda explaining what I learned from local farmers during my trip, and outlined some of the key advantages of GM crops

•I created the TEDx Talk to increase awareness among the general public

•With the help of The Farm & Food Care Foundation, we launched the KNOW GMO Movie

KNOW GMO: An Uplifting Discussion About Food will be a global, film festival-quality documentary from which short vignettes will be taken for distribution and use in schools and urban markets. 

We need to change the conversation from NO GMO to KNOW GMO.

The budget for the movie is $1 million, and to date we have raised over $250,000 and have completed filming in Hawaii, with South America next on the agenda. It is scheduled for release in December 2015.

Please visit www.knowGMOtheMOVIE.com to make your tax-deductible donation.



About the Author
Robert Saik

Saik is the founder and CEO of Agri-Trend Inc., a Canadian agricultural coaching network that includes agronomic, grain marketing, business, technology, carbon offset and land management services. He holds a BSc in Agriculture from the University of Alberta, is a Professional Agrologist and Certified Agricultural Consultant.

He owned and operated a farm in northeastern Alberta, founded and subsequently sold two fertilizer companies, and is currently a partner in a Calgary marketing and design firm. Saik an active professional speaker, entertaining and educating audiences around the world on strategic business planning, technology integration and social media in agriculture.

He can be reached at rsaik@agritrend.com.

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