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Feeding a growing world population: agriculture in the spotlight

Update: August, 24/2015 - 08:00

With over 150 years' history and know-how, Bayer CropScience is committed to enhance food security and food safety worldwide, through promoting productive and sustainable agricultural practices. Viet Nam News caught up with Marc Reichardt, global head of the company's agricultural commercial operations, who was recently in the country, and sought his advice for Vietnamese agriculture.

As a major global player in the agricultural sector, what are the biggest issues in farming globally and in Viet Nam that your company sees?

Marc Reichardt

The biggest issue globally for agriculture is, no doubt, the need to produce enough to feed the growing world population. The United Nations estimates the world's population to grow to 9 billion by 2050. In addition, due to current dietary preferences especially in the more developed countries, the projected 9 billion people could eat as much food as required for an astounding 13 billion.

This means we need to increase our current production of food. But agriculture is also facing increasing challenges in the form of extreme weather conditions due to climate change, limited arable land and natural resources, shortage of labour, as well as increased market volatility as a result of fluctuating market prices and uncertain economic conditions.

In Asia, including Viet Nam, the problem is more acute. Agriculture accounts for a quarter of the GDP and employs about 60 per cent of the region's working population. Despite having a wide range of natural endowments coupled with diversification of agriculture, the region today faces major challenges like food insecurity and high rate of poverty and malnutrition. According to the World Bank, GDP growth originating in agriculture is at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as GDP growth originating outside agriculture.

So how has your company helped to tackle these issues?

At Bayer, we're committed to enhancing food security with a focus on bringing innovative crop solutions as well as seeds and traits to market, to help farmers secure their harvests and increase productivity. We also collaborate with key stakeholders across the value chain to facilitate the exchange of agricultural expertise and technologies. For example, in Viet Nam, we have introduced the Rice Value Chain (RVC) project, where we partner local authorities, research institutes, universities and retailers to offer farmers an integrated package comprising our Bayer Much More Rice solution, training and on-farm consultancy services. Farmers participating in the RVC project have seen a decrease in input costs and a corresponding increase in yields, resulting in an increase in incomes of about 40 per cent.

CropScience is one of Bayer's three pillars. How much does it contribute to the company's turnover?

The Bayer Group continued to grow sales in the second quarter of 2015 and significantly improved earnings. Sales at CropScience globally matched the strong level of the previous-year quarter, while earnings improved.

In Viet Nam, Bayer has sustained its growth for the last 20 years with an average 16 per cent growth in the last five years.

For years you were based in Brazil, the world's biggest coffee exporter. What should Viet Nam do to develop its coffee industry?

Brazil has a long history in growing coffee, and it has gone through tremendous changes. Today Brazil is the leading coffee exporter in the world, followed by Viet Nam. Coffee producers in Brazil are highly specialized, and the industry has evolved towards high-tech pivot irrigation and automation which requires high investments. However, for some decades, coffee in Brazil has been facing intense competition from soybean and other cash crops.

Marc Reichardt (first from right) and Torsten Velden, Country Head of Bayer CropScience Viet Nam (second from left) talk with Vietnamese farmers in Central Highland province of Dac Lac about experiences in planting coffee.

Viet Nam is quickly catching up when it comes to effective watering, scaling up cultivation techniques, and improving harvesting and processing technologies. In co-operation with the Western Central Highlands Agriculture and Forestry Science Institute (WASI), Bayer CropScience Viet Nam has been contributing with our expert knowledge in areas such as irrigation and disease control to help coffee growers increase their yields.

In addition, with the International Coffee Organization's prediction that global coffee consumption will increase by nearly 25 per cent by 2020, we foresee that coffee prices will go up as supply cannot keep pace. We therefore see added incentive for farmers to grow coffee, and we will continue to support them in growing more, and more efficiently.

Last year, we launched an innovative herbicide for coffee farmers in Viet Nam to help them manage weeds. With its high efficacy, farmers enjoy added convenience as it helps reduce labor input and brings about cost savings. At the same time, this solution is sustainable for the environment with its low application rate.

Another key factor for success that we see is the need for partnership across the whole coffee value chain, especially for export. Certification is a catalyst and makes your produce even more attractive, especially for the European market.

There are also other new challenges that we will have to tackle jointly. For example, scientists predict that Latin American and also some Asian countries' coffee production will be threatened by climate change, especially rainfall pattern changes and temperature increase. The highly mechanised coffee production in Brazil might not be suitable for intercropping. Investing in new cropping systems could be a future advantage for countries such as Viet Nam.

What should the Vietnamese Government do to ensure agriculture is well planned?

While increasing yields and efficiency are of utmost importance to ensure sustainable agriculture in Viet Nam, we also should think about creating a stronger Viet Nam brand. Obviously you need to back it up with quality and a good product, but a story behind the product helps to sell, especially in foreign markets.

The Government has a key role to play here - in terms of providing the necessary infrastructure, regulations and processes to give farmers access to technologies and know-how, and ensuring that their agricultural produce are of high quality, safe and meet export standards. Small farmers need strong government support to link them up to bigger entities to truly make a difference – this could be through co-operatives, public-private partnerships or farmer associations. — VNS

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