The war against world hunger never ends, but it always changes—and the COVID-19 pandemic is making it worse.
Some 272 million people now face “extreme hunger” due to the disease, and 41 million are on “the brink of famine,” according to the World Food Program.
Fighting back will take everything we have, from a resilient economy to sensible public-health programs.
It will also take farmers like me.
To grow the food we need, however, we’ll need reliable access to essential tools. That includes the crop-protection products that keep our plants safe and healthy.
This is especially true in the places where food production lags. I’m South African, and my continent trails all the others in its ability to grow food.
We have excellent soil that can grow everything from corn to coffee. We have access to water. We have millions of people who are willing to work hard.
What we lack is technology.
We need the seeds that can flourish in a changing climate, the irrigation mechanisms that can deliver water to the right places and in the right quantities, and the equipment that can help us plant, protect, and harvest with the greatest efficiency.
Most of all, however, we need the crop-protection tools that will allow us to defeat the weeds, pests, and diseases that threaten our fields each day.
We’ve overcome other challenges in the past with international help.
I’ve seen this personally. As a child and victim of South African apartheid, I applied for a plot of land through a redistribution program and began my new life as a farmer. Over the last two decades, farming has pulled me out of poverty and given me a better life.
When South Africans fought apartheid, people in other countries applied pressure to an illegitimate government. Today we need these same allies to help us modernize and strengthen our industries by embracing technology and innovation—in farming, this means access to crop-protection tools.
Without them, my country and my continent will fall further behind as the world tries to achieve food security.
I’ve watched poor crop protection lead to farming disasters. Attempts to defy the lessons of modern agriculture do not work. Farmers and consumers always suffer.
We must embrace technology, not fear it. For Africa, this means picking the right seeds, raising the best plants, and using the finest crop-protection products so that we can enjoy strong harvests.
Because of GMOs as well as herbicides and pesticides, I grow more food on less land. I don’t have to fight weeds by ripping up my soil with deep plowing. I don’t have to watch insects eat the crops that are meant for people. I don’t have to worry that their attacks are opening pathways to disease that can deliver even more destruction.
My goal is to grow food sustainably, protecting my crops and my fields as well as 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 increasing the greenhouse gases that my exhaust pipes release into the atmosphere. Instead, I’m trapping carbon dioxide in the ground and doing my small part to prevent climate change.
Today, we face the all-new challenge of COVID-19, which has killed an estimated 4.5 million people worldwide. Behind this grim statistic is that fact that many more are going hungry, due to economic lockdowns and other disruptions.
At a time like this, we should turn to safe science and sound technology. They are solutions rather than threats. On my farm, I depend on them to grow food and look forward to new innovations that will help me grow more.
The pandemic doesn’t care about race, class, or borders. It’s the enemy of us all. That’s why we should come together in solidarity as we figure out the best way to use technology to achieve food security.
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