EP 8: Supporting Smallholder Farms in the Developing World with Gabriela Burian of Bayer Crop Science
Michael Young, Host
Gabriela Burian, Global Lead for Sustainable Food Systems, Bayer Crop Science
Gaby, thank you for coming on the podcast.
Thank you, Michael. This is really a great opportunity. I really appreciate it.
So, there’s a ton of talk in agriculture in general that we’re going to need to feed a lot more people on less land and that means some say, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the UN say 70% by 2050 and either we’re going to do that on the same land or we’re going to have to cut down more forests which doesn’t seem like a great idea. And so, I want to get into all of that and everything that Bayer is doing to help in that process but I think we should first discuss some of the very poignant and important criticisms of industrial agricultural in general and of Bayer and its predecessor Monsanto in particular. And I would emphasize here to you and to my listeners that I am not a partisan in this debate. I would broadly adhere to what I think Ramiz Nam has said that GMOs are neither planetary panacea or unbridled poison. They’re going to land somewhere in the middle. And so, really my first question to you, Gaby, is why should we trust Bayer to do the right thing by farmers, consumers and planetary health?
Thank you, Michael. That’s really a perfect question to start this conversation. I appreciate it. When we think about our relation, let’s say you and myself or people generally speaking, one key point for trust is transparence. Right? When we know exactly what the other person is doing and the reason why, when we can have a current dialogue, then generally speaking related to the Ag sector, I believe this is the point that we need to work more. There is work to be done related to transparency and to dialogue and the main reason why is because in the past the sector was really more focused to deliver the products and the solutions to farmers only, not paying attention in fact that the final customers were not only farmers but the entire society. Then these in fact is something that we need work more as a sector making sure our conversation is a dialogue with the entire society where we can answer all the questions and where we can address all the fears that are out there. Then there is a lot of work in terms of innovation in science space and this is not always very well understood. Then we need to take time and have the transparent dialogue. This is really crucial.
Then one point that we have been doing at Bayer specifically speaking now is we understand that this is something that we need to reinforce our work. Then we are committed. This is new/ We this commitment some months ago I would say related transparency of how the data related to our products. Then if you Google transparency and Bayer, you’ll find out the information related to products, related to things that normally the sector wouldn’t have these in a transparent way because it was understood as commercial competition, etc. Then now our point is we need to ensure there is access to our data and everyone can touch these and it can have a good and fair conversation with our scientists and with everyone. This is the first point and transparent is really crucial to make sure that is—and it’s new. Then the conversation, the dialogue which societies really something that the sector as a whole in the bare face specifically we are working more.
Second point is also how can we ensure sustained abilities totally connect to our business, to decision making process and again ensuring people see the governance and the accountability that we have. Then we are working very hard to connect those two pieces: profitability and sustainability. We are calling it the path to impact generator, to become an impact generator. It’s like our products will necessarily believe in sustainability and profit at the same time. Then this is transformational. There is a lot to be done in that regard. We are working hard and we are ensuring everyone can access this process. And third piece—then first piece transparent, second piece of accountability and sustainability related to products and third piece I would say is collaboration. Then this is something that we need to ensure we have others and organizations that are respected to go with us in that journey and we have been working those are the three main points and too what you mention in the beginning of the innovations and doesn’t matter which innovation. We can always bring questions, discuss and ensure the process is so well done in a way that we clarify everything that’s related to each one of the innovations because, of course, you have the food and the food is directly related to us, who we are, to our culture. Right? I’m Brazilian. Then some foods for me are crucial and for you, not so much. Then we needed to ensure we respect each geography and each culture to all display a bigger role in the trust.
Thank you for that. And I have looked at Transparency.Bayer.com It is a very good attempt on the part of the company to get a consistent level of dialogue out there with stakeholders. And look, I believe in progress and I think you’re acknowledging that there have been mistakes made and that the way forward is through transparency and dialogue. So, I definitely applaud that. From a stakeholder standpoint broadly, what are you specifically doing? And by that I mean, Gaby, in your role. Where do you spend most of your time communicating, talking?
In terms of stakeholders and this is something that I’m personally passionate about. I spend the majority of my time, in fact, in dialogue with organizations like the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, WBCSD. Also, World Economic Forum, WEF, and the finally the third organization that I would mention here like key stakeholder with whom we have been talking a lot is the Food Systems Dialogue. And if you search in fact the Food Systems Dialogue ran by David Navajo who is world food price and is now especially involved for the COVID-19, then without those organizations, the main point is how can we improve and advance in a transparent way, collaboration to have a more sustainable food system over all across the world and for everyone. Then for Bayer this is really part of our purpose. It’s health for all, hunger for none and we understand this isn’t something that we can only achieve together. Right? There is no one organization that can ensure that we achieve it.
And could we talk a little in more detail about some of the initiatives that Bayer has put forward? There are a lot of things I out on the site around climate, around education, bees—a big thing here in California by the way—supply chain water. And then I do want to talk about COVID and how that has impacted many, many aspects of sustainability. But could you first just give us a survey of what you’re up to from a sustainable agricultural standpoint at Bayer?
For us, sustainable agriculture is crucial. It’s the only way we can ensure we will be increasing farmers’ economic viability, their well-being and at the same time, ensuring we are preserving the environment. This is crucial because agriculture needs health environment to survive. Then we really do this part of our business affect, agriculture business, the food production. We need the environment. Then we define the commitment. Then this would help us to navigate how the things that you mentioned. Our commitment is really very strong in terms of environment and also in terms of societal targets. Then environment we are working to reduce the impact of our crop protection by 30% and our commitment is, in fact, that we are working to become carbon neutral in our own operations by 2030. 2030 because it’s their year when we as a society, we need to deliver the sustainable development goals. Then we are working to help this process, of course.
Second point, then not only the carbon but also there is the environmental footprint. That’s also very important for us as a society generally speaking. Then we are working to reduce also the environmental footprint by 30% by 2032. And finally, when very strong and we are working hard with this one truth is we are working to empower 100 million small holder farmers and this will be done by improving access to knowledge related to agriculture, tailored solutions and solutions that they can use for their specific region, improving access to service generally speaking and partnership. Then why is that important is because more than 500 million smallholder farmers provide 80% of food for communities across the world and this is really important to ensure that they have access now more than ever before. Then the way we have been working with all those pieces is first of all education, yes. You mentioned a little bit. Education is crucial. We are working to ensure farmers have access to knowledge that enables them to run their business and we can mention some success. One important piece of this process is Bayer has also one business called Climate Corporation and Climate Corporation bring the digital innovation. Then we are working with some of those solutions to ensure those farmers have access to expertise in science and they can understand what is the agronomic suggestion for each part of their field. Then there is one that’s Climate Farm Rise. That’s being implemented.
Another interesting success is in India. In India, we are enabling also tools that can help farmers and this has been used in like 10 states across India to access to what’s necessary for the field, what’s necessary in terms of agronomic and that they have more knowledge through their mobile. Then those are some interesting topics that have been used and we are improving more and more across this especially adopted in our realities. You mentioned bees. Then bees, of course, are crucial also for agriculture and we have a lot in that regard. Then bees are part of the biodiversity. Main topic, we have a big approach related to this topic. One interesting that has in fact access and again people can go at the website and find these is the Healthy Hives 2020. In this one, there was invested $1.3 million and what the partnership, it’s a partnership with some nonprofits. The goal was, in fact, to find out the true cost to create the best management practices and to evaluate also what’s the technology necessary to make sure bees will be better managed. And finally also, access what are relevant in terms of resistance to pests and this is—then a lot of work being done in that regard. And yes, a report if you can go to report, you find the report off of there and more to be done.
In terms of supply chain, supply chain also is another place where we have a big commitment in the work. In fact, going on now as we speak related to sustainable supply chain. Then we joined two initiatives, the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Initiative and also another one that’s called Together for Sustainability. And then we are working to establish new sustainability standards for the company supply base and at the same time profiling training. Then again education being very important. We know we need it to audit but at the same time we need it to ensure people have access to what’s necessary to reach customers and what’s required now more than ever.
In terms of water, a lot again not only in terms of our products. Then we have products are and a lot of…and at the same time we are working with management, new management that helped farmers to reduce water use and these help them to be able to better perform with their crops. Then we are working though a lot of also in terms of new technologies that help to reduce the water usage and this has been very important both in my country Brazil and here in the United States, in Africa. One example that’s water for Africa. This is a partnership with the Gates Foundation. Then now delivering the final product after 10 years of work, research and big teamwork. We are very happy to have a product available for small holder farmers in Africa for their region. And yes, there’s a lot of to be done. More to be done. But yes, we are happy because everything that we are mentioning is really very integrated with our path for being more and more sustainable agriculture.
Gaby, maybe just to shift gears and let’s talk about what’s going on with COVID and I think we’ve all observed the risks and the weaknesses emerging in our globally connected agricultural supply chain as the result of COVID. Bayer does have a very excellent regularly updated page on what it’s doing in COVID. Could you just quickly summarize for us some of your views on that and maybe just what do you think the big lessons and issues around COVID will be in sustainable agriculture?
Yeah, sure. With pleasure. In this, very well. Bayer is working night and day related to COVID both in the pharmacology, consumer health and agriculture sector. Then how those three sectors help us to deliver the health for all, hunger and none and in the times of challenge like this, like the COVID, it’s very clear to see that we need to work with consumer. Right? Because, of course, during this period, this is when the health and the food are critical especially for those more vulnerable populations. Then what we are doing is first of all, ensuring our employees’ supply chains in communities where we work are well, safe and they receive all the human rights that are necessary to go through this period. And this is one big piece that’s short term. Then yes, we are providing tests, we are providing masks, we are providing medicines and at the same time, in the food sector, we are helping to ensure for instance trades. Our farmers need to be able to send their goods across the borders. Then this one piece that we need to work and we are working with a lot of collaborations.
And in the other side, we consumers, we need to get what the farmers are producing. Then we are working to produce the seeds and all the products, the innovations that farms need now and working also with collaborations to let them know that borders need to allow goods and workers for that matter to go and ensure food will be there for the future but we need producing food cannot stop through this challenge that we are facing now. Then one is this short term. Working to ensure COVID will not be a worse risk than it has been already. Ensuring food production is there.
Second point is need to ensure innovation is out there and is enabling farmers to produce better and to ensure the safety of what they are producing. Then this is something that we are also enforcing across the world. And farmers need to see what the importance related to safety and how they need to produce their food. Veggies are very important and we have a lot related to veg. Ensuring that farmers are producing a safe product. Then sustainable innovation, we are working a lot across the border. And the finally, the piece related to resilient global food systems and we are collaborating a lot with other organizations. There is the part related to market access as I mentioned a little bit. There is also the part related to location, safety and supply chain as a whole. Then how can we help these to go ahead overcoming those challenges that farmers are facing and workers also. Then this is where we are working with collaborations like sustainable development of food systems dialogue. Ensuring partners from organizations from across different areas then not only business but also universities can come together and find solutions. One very good example is the border. How can we ensure that workers will go work in a different country where they are needed? How can we ensure goods are being also transported? Then all this is our focus now working tirelessly to enable our farmers to have access to products.
And what predictions do you have for the world after COVID? Any thoughts there?
Yes. That’s a very good point. Exact. I believe there will be a big potential. Then not only the way we work but the way we produce our food, the way we make our decisions. Some key points where we are seeing the connection. Right? Then the connection between China and us and our food and the supermarket. Then how these connections and the one piece that I would add is the question about most vulnerable people. Then how challenged are being now during this period. Then the way we will be going after these period in my opinion is really a more digital production. Then going why is that? Because then this would allow more transparent information. Then we all can know where this is being produced and how this has been produced and ensuring that there is more science as a base. Then science is also something that we have been all discussing a lot. And then what I would say is mainly speaking mainly organizations are using and that we are among those are using this period to rethink how can we be more transformational after the challenge that we are facing now to avoid those kinds of risks. Then, of course, investors also will be more and more asking for sustainability performance in terms of reducing their risks.
Then we will see certainly a lot of different way of doing business after this period. And one piece that I love is the fact that we are all, each one of us in fact, seeing the possibility to become leaders in what we do, leaders in a different way to go ahead and leaders also in challenge the way we have been doing as a society. Then it’s certainly a very interesting period of challenge, of course, but also very interesting enabling everyone that can stand up to stand up and to say I can do more, I can do different. How can we go ahead during this period and after this period to make difference and make sure we include all in this society to have less resilience and less risk? We are all codependent. Right? Then it’s certainly a period that requires a lot of us but we can see it as also an opportunity to make a difference. Then in terms of Bayer, I would say the same. We are standing up from our CEO to everyone, to our teams. Everyone is really standing up and it’s been impressive to see how transformational you can be with our business, with ourselves and with collaboration. Then important period and more to come for sure. Time for dialogue. Thanks so much for this opportunity, Michael. This really what we need at this period.
You bet, Gaby. Thank you very much for coming on the podcast. We’re going to have to leave it there but really appreciate your time today.
Thank you. Thank you so much.