Robynne Anderson's Emerging Thoughts on Ag

Tackling Childhood Growth Failure with Pulses

Pulses can be a major player in the fight against one of the most urgent global food challenges: malnutrition. A recent clinical study in Malawi has found that complementary feeding with cowpeas reduces stunting in children and improves overall gut health.

In African children, stunting usually occurs between 6 to 15 months, when complementary foods are first introduced. When cowpeas were added to the complementary feeding of Malawian infants aged between 6 and 12 months, stunting significantly reduced in height by age scores. For children between 12 and 36 months, the addition of navy beans to their diets led to an improvement in gut health and reduced inflammation. With global trends showing a sobering increase in world hunger and malnutrition, this is an exciting development!

Despite increased focus on issues of hunger and malnutrition, trends show that we are still moving backwards in our fight against these challenges. Recent research has found that high levels of Child Growth Failure such as wasting and stunting continue to persist in Africa. In 2016, an estimated 36.6% of children under five were stunted, 8.6% wasted and 19.5% underweight in Sub-Saharan Africa. Childhood Growth Failure (CGF) was the second leading risk factor for child mortality and accounted for more than 23% of deaths of children under five. Africa is not expected to meet the Target to end malnutrition, specifically wasting and stunting, by 2030.

To tackle the issue of stunting in children, an affordable and accessible solution like this one is critical. The Feed the Future Legume Innovation Lab, supporters of this research, “believe that grain legume supplements in diets could be game changers for addressing stunting and gut health in undernourished young children in developing countries”, and we commend their good work towards this goal. These positive research outcomes an excellent reminder of why Burkina Faso is leading the charge for a World Pulse Day to be declared.

Since the UN declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses, we have seen an increase in the awareness and consumption of pulses around the globe. Pulses are a nutrient powerhouse packed with protein, nutrients and amino acids; the results of this clinical study prove that they can be an impactful weapon in tackling the scourge of stunting in children, thus boosting food and nutrition security in the developing world.

Follow me for more reflections on agriculture, in Canada and across the world, on Twitter at @Robynne_A



Respect: Advancing Women in Agriculture

When you think about agriculture and food, women are involved in every aspect.  We represent most of the world’s smallholder farmers, livestock keepers, grocery buyers, and household cooks. So if women are a vast part of every aspect of producing and serving our food, why is there a dearth of them in leadership in agriculture?

Last week, I had the honour of discussing that with 30 great women working in agriculture in Singapore. @WOMAGasia regularly brings together women and men to talk about new issues in agriculture.  This is important because building networks, getting training, and the need for gender equity is a conversation that needs to happen with women and men together.

But on this night, they took the time to have a special, frank conversation about what are the challenges we face in getting women into leadership roles in agriculture. It was cathartic and empowering as we talked about how to get mentors, the challenges of imposter syndrome, and how to deal with work-life balance.  There was great advice from around the table and collectively our insights helped us all think of ways to navigate a male-dominated world.

From time to time it was even a bit depressing as we faced the realities that all of us (me included) had been put in socially inappropriate situations and some #MeToo moments. However, strength comes from numbers and 30 women discussing how to manage these situations certainly left us all with new tools and a wonderful sense of solidarity. As more of us come into leadership roles, I hope we will find the incidence of these problems begin to drop away. In addition, I’ve always found that a great aspect of men in agriculture is that they tend to have grown up on farms and have a strong sense of community and family. They don’t want their daughters in those situations, and they can be an important force for social adjustment in agriculture.

One male farmer was smart enough to raise that we need a daycare service at major farm shows like FarmTech to make it easier for women to attend the meetings. That’s a great idea. As a matter of fact, it was a group of men at Duxton Asset Management who had the idea to host this event in Singapore and sponsored it at Straits Wine Company.

We also need to think about how to proactively engage women in industry conferences, advance them to boards, and recognize their accomplishments. I remain deeply touched by being inducted into the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame, but so conscious that there are only 8 women among 210 men.  There is no way this gap reflects the efforts of my mother, my grandmothers, and my great-grandmothers in rural Canada and all the other women who have been the backbone of agriculture.  The fault of this does not lie at the door of men. We, as a society, need to be thinking about recognizing women more often – and we women should be at the front lines of thinking of great female talent to propose. Because, together we are stronger.

Women throughout agriculture can do more to band together and help each other. I hope a new “Old girls’ network” will come to co-exist with the “Old boys’ network” that will be fully diverse and inclusive. I hope that soon we’ll just be people equitably sharing leadership roles. We are half the world’s population and one of these days I hope we will #FilltheGap to become half of agricultural leadership.

Happy International Women’s Day!

More Than Pretty Landscapes: How Canada Stacks Up Globally on Sustainability

Our friends at Real Agriculture took the time to interview me at FarmTech in Alberta.  It is always fun to chat with Shaun, and got to discuss how Canada is doing on sustainable agriculture.  It is particularly important since progress is being made on some global indicators that would allow more consistent and direct comparisons between countries.  I think Canada is going to stack up well.  Canada’s already made lots of progress on soil health through the use of conversation tillage.  Now we need to focus in on improving crop rotations and measures on biodiversity.  It’s great to see people already thinking about intercropping and other solutions to drive us to the next great innovations in agriculture. Onwards to continuous improvement!

Watch the interview here.

What a SuperCluster!

No, I am not swearing at you. Or if I were, it would be to express excitement over the new innovation work in Canada. The Government of Canada set out a challenge to have public, private and academic institutions band together to create new innovations to support Canadian growth and jobs. A great example of blended finance, it asked for proposals that would link whole value chains and reach every corner of the country with exciting synergies of expertise.

Basically, imagine trying to create a Silicon Valley virtually. They are calling it a Supercluster. The five winners were just announced in the areas of:

  • The Ocean Supercluster (based in Atlantic Canada) will use innovation to improve competitiveness in Canada’s ocean-based industries, including fisheries, oil and gas, and clean energy;
  • The SCALE.AI Supercluster (based in Quebec) will make Canada a world-leading exporter by building intelligent supply chains through artificial intelligence and robotics;
  • The Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster (based in Ontario) will connect Canada’s technology strengths to our manufacturing industry to make us a world manufacturing leader in the economy of tomorrow;
  • The Protein Industries Supercluster (based in the Prairies) will make Canada a leading source for plant proteins and help feed the world;
  • The Digital Technology Supercluster (based in British Columbia) will use big data and digital technologies to unlock new potential in important sectors like healthcare, forestry, and manufacturing.

The investment by the Canadian government of nearly $1 billion will be matched dollar for dollar by the private sector, and is expected to create more than 50,000 middle-class jobs and grow Canada’s economy by $50 billion over the next 10 years.

As always, it a is pleasure to see Canada focusing on the fact that innovation comes in many forms. There were several great proposals in agriculture and food and it was a special thrill to see Protein Industries Canada be selected as one of the final five. Sure, it may seem obvious to many that artificial intelligence and robotics would make the cut, but the decision to support food innovation demonstrates that that area of development is an equally important application of technology. An excellent proposal on precision farming was also shortlisted, and is particularly meritorious because Canadian agriculture has always been driven by innovation from seeding through to the final products delivered to consumers. One particular area where Canadian agriculture certainly needs to innovate is value addition.

We have traditionally shipped raw product out of our country. As a result, we are some of the world’s best at sustainable, efficient production of many raw materials, including grains, oilseeds, and meat. The opportunity stands to take greater advantage of this productive capacity. Protein Industries Canada is aimed at substantially increasing global market share in novel protein (and co-products) fractions, ingredients, food and feed products, and technologies.

This consortium involves everything from farmers to multinationals; academic institutions to food processors; crop breeders to marketing groups. And the focus now is on developing the potential of plant-based proteins from pulses, hemp, oats, wheat, canola flax, and other crops for export to the world.

One of the great things is that this is a pan-western effort spanning Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. There are great opportunities across this country, and it is heartening to see investment that will affect rural areas in particular – something that is too often overlooked around the world.

Recently, our prime minister issued a challenge to Canadian agriculture to grow our annual exports to $75 billion by 2025. This will only come through innovation and new technology. The goal is to move Canada to second place in global agricultural exports and fifth in agri-food exports. Specifically, we want to further promote a new range of plant-derived foods, ingredients and feedstuffs of great quality, thereby commanding market premiums.

Innovation in agriculture is the reason why I devote time to being on the boards of Bioenterprise and Protein Industries Canada. They are organisations fostering change and working collaboratively throughout the value chain.

If you want to learn about all the SuperClusters, start here.

And here if you want to learn more about the Protein Supercluster specifically, read this.

I’ve never been so excited to see a cluster!

Follow me for more reflections on agriculture, in Canada and across the world, on Twitter at @Robynne_A

Growing Canada’s New Field of Dreams

This post was originally posted on the Canadian Biomass website.

Feb. 12, 2018 – Canada has always been an agricultural powerhouse, but these days it’s not just about selling prairie wheat, P.E.I. potatoes and maple syrup to the world. Now we’re also building bio-cars from ag-based fibres, composites and foams. We’re creating naturally derived pharmaceuticals and functional foods that help fight disease. We’re cutting carbon emissions by finding valuable uses for agricultural wastes, and we’re boosting agricultural productivity in all kinds of ways.

Recently, our prime minister issued a challenge to Canadian agriculture to grow our annual exports to $75 billion by 2025. This will only come through innovation and new technology. Bioenterprise is a great example of a federal-provincial-private partnership to accelerate that innovation.

Over the last 10 years, the organization’s clients (generally small start-ups) have launched more than 1,000 new products, services and technologies; created thousands of new jobs; and generated over $268 million in revenues. Bioenterprise has also worked closely with 30 companies in helping them secure more than $120 million in investment.

Agri-technology is a sector with huge potential, but it needs scientific and technical expertise, industry knowledge, business services and global connections, to help start-ups commercialize innovations and grow successful businesses.

For example, Energrow enables farmers to process their own oilseeds on farm into fresh, high-quality meal and oil through one of the most reliable, efficient and user-friendly pressing systems on the market.

But innovation alone doesn’t guarantee commercial success. You also need business savvy, industry knowledge, and financial resources to navigate the path to market.

At several points throughout the entrepreneurial journey, Enegrow turned to Bioenterprise for support. The agri-business accelerator helped source market data, established industry connections and provided all-important reality checks.

Today it is great to see the Ontario-based company has 15 dealers across North America and a customer base that Energrow expects to double in the coming year.

Of course, one of the biggest hurdles facing start-ups and established companies alike is financing growth – it’s especially challenging for agri-tech innovators in Canada. Seed funding and funding proposals, as well as connecting clients to investors, are a few ways Bioenterprise is working to address this gap for early-stage companies. But agri-tech is still just a blip on investors’ radars.

For one established Guelph, Ont., company, that seed financing helped them take their business to the next level. Rootham Gourmet Preserves turns Ontario produce into gourmet condiments, sold in local specialty markets and gift stores. Using a grant from Bioenterprise, they were able to expand processing capabilities and launch a highly targeted direct mail campaign engineered by one of Bioenterprise’s corporate partners.

The results were immediate: Rootham gained more than two-dozen new clients in just two months. That boost to business allowed them to expand production, hire more staff and increase the hours of current employees. The grant also helped support product development with Longo’s, a chain of grocery stores across the Greater Toronto Area, leading to a significant contract. The company not only hit their target of doubling gross sales, but they did it in just one year instead of the projected two.

The fact is, Canada has no shortage of promising agri-tech ideas, technologies and products but the big stumbling block is the lack of growth or venture capital. There are few investment firms out there who understand the sector, and even fewer angel investors.

That’s why accelerators like Bioenterprise are needed. There are great inventors, farmers, and food innovators in Canada, we can help them get investment and market ready by providing strategic advice. It’s an area where Canada really excels, creating a co-funded public-private programme, such as Bioenterprise, to help those innovators grow.

Agri-food is a big sector in Canada that represents over 12 per cent of our employment and a big proportion of our trade – a growing proportion if we are to meet this new national target of $75 billion in exports. That goal, and the goal of healthy, diverse diets for Canadians, will be driven by innovation. So from super-clusters to agri-tech accelerators, it is a growing reality that the public and private sectors will be working together to reap the benefits.

Robynne Anderson was recently inducted into the Canadian Agriculture Hall of Fame (, one of eight women among 210 men. She is a member of the Bioenterprise board of directors and President of Emerging ag (