For millions of families in the developing world, farming is not just an occupation – it is their sole means of survival. Smallholder farmers grow several crops on small plots of land to support their families and local communities.
Asia is home to the smallest-sized farms and the largest number of smallholder farmers globally. It’s estimated that 85 percent of the world’s 525 million smallholder farmers live and work within the continent – around 100 million in Southeast Asia alone. With fewer resources and more unique challenges to mitigate – such as access to technology, landholder rights, finance availability, and climate change – these farmers face a daunting task.
In 2015, over two billion people depended upon the produce of Asia’s smallholder farmers. They’re the largest farmer group in the world and ensure food security in developing countries. The trouble is that it’s tough for them to make a good living.
From biotech plants that boost yields and profit, to herbicides that replace strenuous labour, smallholder farmers are looking to the plant science industry for more choices to improve their livelihoods. Making agriculture more productive and profitable through plant science helps smallholder farmers move from ‘farming to survive’ towards marketing their crops, creating sustainable livelihoods and stronger communities.
Advancements in plant science bring invaluable tools. Technologies help to sustainably increase yields, use fewer resources, and minimise impacts on the environment. Improved productivity means higher incomes for farmers and their families. This results in better access to medical care, schooling and business opportunities. Rural villages benefit too – with better access to telecommunications, drinking water and infrastructure.
Pesticides are an important tool for smallholder farmers. Using pesticides to produce disease-free fruit can result in a four-fold income increase for small-scale passionfruit farmers and extra income for avocado farmers.
To control weeds, herbicides are critical for reducing strenuous labour and boosting yields. To weed just one hectare of corn, a farmer would travel 10 kilometres mostly in a stooped position that would have most chiropractors cringing. Herbicides reduce this back-breaking labour by 90 percent. This means 24 billion less hand-weeding hours and a 40 million tonne increase in crop yields.
Without crop protection products, close to half of the world’s food would be lost to pests and disease. The protection these products provide isn’t limited to the field – they help prolong the viable life and prevent post-harvest losses of these crops while in storage as well. With much arable land being converted to other uses, crop protection products help farmers to grow more food on less land.
Biotech crops also help increase crop productivity, conserve biodiversity and increase smallholder farmer incomes. Bt cotton, for example, has built-in pest resistance and is boosting farm incomes and quality of life in many developing countries. In India, these cotton farmers are achieving 50 to 110 percent higher profits.
On a larger scale, new biotechnology helps reduce carbon emissions and slows the advance of climate change. In 2015 alone, it’s estimated that biotech crop plantings lowered carbon dioxide emissions by 26.7 billion kg – equivalent to removing around 12 million cars from the road for a year. Farmer income gains generated by biotech crops amounted to about US$167.8 billion globally from 1996-2015.
As part of the CropLife Asia network, Agcarm regularly shares knowledge with Asian colleagues on ensuring a safe and sustainable food supply and protecting the environment and human health. We share information on our container recycling programme, Agrecovery, our regulatory engagement, and the health of our pollinators.
Asia is also a major and growing importer of New Zealand’s primary produce. Exports to the region are expected to continue to grow.
With New Zealand closely aligned with the Asian markets, it is important that we support smallholder farmers, and work together to ensure safe and healthy food throughout the Asia-Pacific.