As the father of two young children, it is natural for me to think a lot about what their future world will look like. So, when David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme, said that ending global hunger, the second sustainable development goal, is not achievable, it left me worried.
Let us talk numbers. By mid-century, there will be around 9.8 billion mouths to feed, at least 30 percent more than today. Issues like climate change and urban migration will create challenges that will make it harder to feed them all. Right now, 80 percent of our food is produced by smallholder farmers, and three out of four such farmers want to quit farming. Worse, the next generation is uninterested in farming. To add to this, a rapid trend towards urbanisation is going to turn the majority of Asians into urban dwellers after 2020 while cultivable land decreases by 30,000 hectares annually.
It is clear that the answers to global food security do not lie in minor improvements or optimisations but in reimagining the agricultural landscape. Any effort to tackle poverty and food security will be futile if climate resilience isn’t factored in, thus the need for ‘climate-smart’ farming.
However, technology alone cannot solve the problems of farmers, and technologies which enhance farmers’ climate resilience need not always be hi-tech greenhouses but something which solve region-specific problems related to climate change. These solutions could be as simple as drought-resistant seeds, shade nets, or low-tunnel vegetables.
“Technology alone cannot solve the problems of farmers, and technologies which enhance farmers’ climate resilience need not always be hi-tech.”
Sathya Raghu Mokkapati, Kheyti
Currently, a seed company may sell seeds without reading the soil report; a fertiliser shop might sell agro-chemicals without assessing field conditions; a loan may be given without knowing farmer cash-flows; and buyers focus on prices and quality. To fix these, all dots should be connected with farmers’ needs in mind, which is called ‘full stack’ solution.
Hence, the need to integrate the two terms to what I refer to as ‘full-stack climate-smart farming’. This basically involves audacious reimagination of the agricultural landscape, recognising farmers as the Chief and building climate resilience along with full-stack solutions to ensure that farmers’ experience of agriculture is seamless and economically meaningful. This end-to-end approach creates meaningful solutions to the real problems of farmers. It uses appropriate technology to protect farmers from the risk of climate change and provides services ranging from soil-testing to produce marketing to support the farmers’ hard work.
Full stack climate-smart farming can be promoted by governments to encourage start-ups and the private sector to use it to offer various products and services such as soil testing and seed selection and go all the way up to marketing produce. The programmes that exist so far are promising.
In India, Timbaktu supports 20,000 farmer families in the drought-prone districts of Rayalaseema in Andhra Pradesh. The One Acre Fund and BabbanGona in Africa provide end-to-end packages that help small farmers procure the right technology, high-quality seeds and fertilisers on credit. They also train farmers to optimise yields and labour productivity, and gain market access.
Green Agrevolution in Bihar, India has an end-to-end model for farmers. The start-up offers soil testing, crop planning, agriculture input, farmers’ training, crop advisory based on input purchased, relevant information, and market linkage of farm produce. It currently serves 16,000 farmers.
“It is our collective responsibility to wage a war against hunger and food insecurity.”
Sathya Raghu Mokkapati, Kheyti
Kheyti is also seeing success. The non-profit start-up is working with small farmers in 15 villages of Telangana, India, who daily are looking for ways to produce food with fewer resources. Kheyti provides farmers with items like low-cost modular greenhouses and solutions like financing, inputs, production advisory and marketing. Our farmers are more climate-resilient than before as temperature inside our greenhouse is lower by five degrees compared to outside to help reduce heat stress. Yield is five to seven times more compared to that of open farming and water usage per kilogram is 1/50th of that used outside.
It is our collective responsibility to wage a war against hunger and food insecurity. The start-up world should start taking this global concern as an opportunity and create holistic solutions to ensure farmer prosperity and food security. Let us ensure that tomorrow’s headlines do not spell hunger and food insecurity. After all, our children deserve a happy future.
Sathya Raghu V. Mokkapati is the co-founder of Kheyti, an award-winning farm-tech startup based in India with focus on increasing incomes and climate resilience for small farmers in India. He is an Aspen Institute New Voices fellow and an Acumen India Fellow.