This article is part of our special report The future of EU agriculture innovation.
The global environmental challenges are changing too fast and we therefore need speedy reactions too, including innovative plant breeding technologies and digitisation, Alexandra Brand, chief sustainability officer at agri-food giant Syngenta, told EURACTIV.com in an interview.
Earlier this week, Syngenta presented its new strategy, which aims to speed up innovation in the agricultural sector in order to face rising environmental and societal challenges. According to the company, the strategy was a result of broad consultation with stakeholders ranging from civil society groups to academia and growers.
“There are dramatic changes when it comes to the environment and biodiversity loss. What we will do differently is that we will take food chain partners and growers into the way we innovate and into our decision-making […] we will do that collaboratively,” Brand said.
Brand said plant breeding innovation was one of these technologies the company was looking for.
“They help make crops more resistant to drought or torrential rains […] some of this is already possible today with conventional breeding and plant breeding will just make it faster.”
The Syngenta official also said the digitisation of the sector would also be crucial to better predict diseases for crops considering the numerous different species re-appear because of climate change.
“Digital tools can help growers much more precisely fight a disease. And this means residue levels in the environment will be reduced, something that everybody wants.”
Europe needs open discussion
Brand said there was a lack of trust in science in Europe but added that the general food law was going in the right direction.
“From my perspective, what we first need is a really open and very transparent discussion […] we want to accelerate innovation in a very different, much more open and transparent manner than in the past.”
She explained that in Europe the discussion over science-based decision-making has polarised stakeholders and this should change.
“We all need to rethink our approach; companies like us, grower groups, value chain partners and also civil society need to stop pointing the finger to each other and rather sit down around the same table to discuss future agriculture,” she said.
However, Brand criticised the EU for its “very precautionary principle” when it comes to new technologies saying this is the reason why there has been a steeply decreasing rate of innovation for agricultural technologies in Europe.
“It’s not an innovation enabling system,” she said.
Last but not least, Brand welcomed the post-2020 CAP’s new delivery model granting more space to member states to come up with their own agricultural national strategies “because agriculture in southern Spain or Greece is very different than agriculture in Denmark.”
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]