Nobody knows how many Africans will die from coronavirus.
A new report from the United Nations says that the death toll probably will exceed 300,000.
It calls for social distancing, testing, and stimulus spending.
We will also need a reliable supply of food.
That means farmers like me will have to continue to do our jobs – and if we’re going to do them well, we’ll need access to essential tools, including the crop-protection products that keep our plants safe and healthy. We’re already fighting swarms of locusts as they devour everything in sight and the Fall Armyworm marches across many countries, decimating crop yields.
We’ve faced additional struggles, too, and we’ve gotten through them with international help.
I am a child and victim of South African apartheid. But in 1999, I applied for a plot of land through a redistribution program, and in 2003 began my new life as a farmer. For the first time, I was fully in charge of my own affairs and had a clear path to a better future. Today I own 21 hectares of land near Johannesburg, growing maize, beans and potatoes, and raising pigs and cows. Farming has pulled me out of poverty and given me a better life.
When South Africans fought apartheid, change came with the help of an international community critical of a bad regime. As South Africa grows, these same allies must help us modernize and strengthen our industries by embracing technology and innovation – in farming, this means all tools.
South African farmers are challenged to grow plants on an impoverished continent that has long fought to feed itself and we are in danger of falling further behind in reaching food security.
Now, as we confront COVID-19, this is a time for solidarity.
Yet some of our former friends have turned their backs on us. Rather than recognizing the benefits of technology, they insist that we abandon crop-protection tools and take up organic farming.
I’ve seen poor crop protection lead to farming disasters. Attempts to defy the lessons of modern agriculture do not work. Farmers and consumers always suffer.
It is a real danger when farmers don’t have the modern tools needed to fight disease and pests. In the 21st century, we must embrace technology, not fear it. For Africa, the way forward means picking the right seeds, raising the best plants, and using the finest pesticide products so that we can enjoy strong harvests. I dread to think what would happen without technologies like pesticides.
With biotech seeds and pesticides, I grow more food on less land and I don’t have to fight weeds by ripping up my soil with deep plowing. It’s about growing food sustainably – I protect not only my crops and my fields, but consumers and the environment. With less effective herbicides, I would drive my tractor over fields more times, raising my fuel costs and food prices, and also increase the greenhouse gases that I release into the atmosphere. Today, I’m sequestering carbon dioxide and doing my small part to prevent climate change.
Safe science and sound technology are solutions rather than threats. On my farm, I depend on them and look forward to new innovations. They hold the potential to provide food security to starving nations and also to fight the scourge of malnutrition, the “hidden hunger” found in Africa and around the world.
This is our new fight for justice.
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