Robynne Anderson's Emerging Thoughts on Ag

International Edition of Seed World: Calls for more Research

seedworldThe International Edition of Seed World touched on global issues in the seed sector in time for the International Seed Federation meeting in Uruguay.  An article on the need for more research is on page 42 based on an excellent report by Dorothy Murrell – also a seed sector veteran.  It was a privilege to create an International Edition of Seed World more than a decade ago when I purchased Seed World which is still owned by Issues Ink under the capable leadership of Shawn Brook.

Read the article, on page 42, here. 

EnRoute Magazine: The Frequent Flyer

I was featured in this month’s enRoute magazine. Read about my work and travel experiences:

Tech, Data and Ag

2016-04-25-1461601170-7117176-robynnUN-thumbMany have the impression that technology is for “new” sectors; that farming – which represents a third of the world’s population, half its poor, and is the primary driver of rural development – needs no more than a plow. The sleepy vision of agriculture belies the reality that the most empowered farmers deploy technology regularly to improve yields, increase resilience, and to reduce the footprint of agriculture with sustainable intensification. Conservation tillage is an excellent example and has saved soil, water resources, and reduced fossil fuel use. Farmers themselves took up this technology. Just as they have taken up technology to produce energy from waste products like manure.

Farmers are frequent and complex users of technology.

In the case of smallholders, that technology may take the form of better seeds, water harvesting methods, and grain storage. Some of these technologies are well known, but there are practical risk management issues for someone to change variables on their farm – a complex eco-system – when they are living on less than a dollar or two a day.

This is perpetuated by gaps in research in many areas. So-called “orphan crops” don’t receive their fair share of funding, even in the face of profound needs such as the challenges cassava, banana, and palm dates face from crop diseases. Plus, we are often inclined to talk about crops, forgetting entirely the livestock sector that touches the lives of billions. Funding for animal health not only improves livestock productivity and sustainability, but also helps protect human health.

Recently, I’ve heard many comments that seem a bit snide about how agriculture science only focuses on yield. Without question, science should focus on nutrition, value-addition, and sustainability. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that yields are the way farmers get paid, and we will fail farmers if we leave them with less income than they need to produce our food. Please don’t forget that farmers also produce our clothes in the form of cotton, wool and other fibres, as well as energy, and innumerable other natural products.

To enable farmers to do this successfully, there is a clear and imperative need to invest in public and private agricultural research. This always receives lip service, but we are seeing groups like the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Resources system struggle with massive cutbacks. At the same time, people criticise and undermine intellectual property in agriculture which funds private sector research. We need to support the whole of the science, innovation and technology process in agriculture.

Another clear gap is agricultural extension systems, which were largely gutted over the past few decades. We need local knowledge to supply best practices, implementation, and technologies. We need ways for knowledge sharing to advance agriculture in conversations between scientists in labs and every farmer who are themselves biologists and ecologists working in practice.

Finally, I cannot stress enough the need for insurance and risk management tools to allow farmers to uptake technology when they have only one crop or herd a year. Socio-economic realities limit the ability of smallholders – most of whom are women – to take up new technologies and even basic mechanisation.

All that depends on technology, and also data. Farmers are huge developers and consumers of data and one gap is to fund the use of big data like geospatial and infrared to help agriculture, particularly in the light of climate change.

Agriculture is a great example where we can further the sustainability and further the equity by furthering technology. It has a particular impact in rural areas where some of the greatest inequities exist.

From an agriculture perspective, we have only 14 harvests left to go to 2030 to reach the Sustainable Development Goals #Global Goals

Investing in Nutrition

Global action is urgently needed to tackle the pervasive problem of malnutrition. For too long, it has been underfunded – receiving just $3.9 billion annually in global funding. Reaching the targets to reduce stunting among children and anemia in women, increase exclusive breastfeeding rates, and mitigate the impact of wasting will require an average annual investment of $7 billion over the next 10 years.

While this level of investment is ambitious, it is not unprecedented. In fact, donors and country governments can immediately begin to invest in a subset of high-impact solutions. This priority set of interventions would require only $2.2 billion a year above what is currently spent and is estimated to save 2.2 million lives and empower 50 million more children to grow to their full physical and cognitive potential in 2025.

The World Bank, Results for Development (R4D), and 1,000 Days provided this first-of-its-kind analysis of the global resources needed to achieve four of the six WHA targets (stunting, breastfeeding, anemia, and wasting). It highlights the need for many actors to engage in nutrition, and furthers the case for partnerships to accelerate actions.

The Private Sector Mechanism will be holding a Partnerships Forum on Nutrition in Rome at the end of April to accelerate these actions. This forum will provide a unique setting for sharing examples and concrete experiences of successful initiatives across sectors in many countries.

Follow the International Agri-food Network on Twitter (@Agrifoodnet) and LinkedIn to stay up to date on developments and event updates. Use the hashtag #InvestInNutrition to join the conversation and create impact through Twitter and Facebook!

Getting Oat Innovation on the Agenda

Oats – they are a grain that evokes comfort, home, and a hearty healthiness. Whether oatmeal cookies, oatmeal, or an amazing addition to savoury dishes, there is something about oats that evokes fond memories for me. Plus it is a reminder of Canada’s productive farming capacity. Canada produces the most oats and is responsible for half the world’s exports of oats.

I’ve just wrapped up a visit to Ottawa with the Prairie Oat Growers Association, where visits to all three political parties provided an opportunity to share the story of oats. Over the past two decades, oat farming has become increasingly productive. Canadian oats have high levels of beta-glucan that make them heart-healthy and excellent quality in terms of weight and colour. These competitive advantages cannot be taken for granted.

Oat milling in Canada has declined in favour of American processing. With that has come the need to export, so when grain transportation arose two years ago and oats were not able to move, the impact was grave. Millers couldn’t get what they needed without exports from other countries as far away as Sweden. American millers have encouraged a return to American production resulting in market losses to Canadians.


This situation reminds us all of some fundamental needs. It is essential to ensure the reliability of oat exports – already the industry has implemented 100 car unit trains, increased trucking, and railway fleet options. The ongoing regulatory environment must monitor and sustain solutions in all corridors. Movement South to the US and Mexico needs just as much attention as movement to port position.

There is also a need to support domestic consumption and processing. After years of reductions, it is time to think about our domestic capacity for processing and the ways to excite Canadians production of oats.


This requires innovation. Part of that innovation is to help consumers think of oats as more than just a breakfast food. Oats make a great addition to all meals and are a wonderful snack food. Use of oats as an ingredient needs more exploration, including traits like beta-glucan to make other foods more heart-healthy.

Oats also need new markets – domestic and foreign – plus better ways to serve the American processors like Cheerios and Quaker Oats that have been such great supporters of Canadian oats. They need high beta-glucan levels, strong evidence on the natural sustainability claims of a low-water use crop like oats.

Innovation is the pathway to lift the Canadian oat market and we hope more leaders are seeing the role for this vital crop.