Genetic engineering, fertilisers and agricultural chemicals - conflicting perspectives

Is modern genetic engineering an innovative answer for ensuring global food supply? And what about fertilisers and agricultural chemicals? Organic farmer Felix Prinz zu Löwenstein believes all three are part of the problem. Matthias Berninger from the Bayer Corporation disagrees. He thinks rejecting these new technologies is a risky ideological proposition. A debate moderated by Jan Grossarth.

In 2050, there will be around 10 billion people to feed. The population of sub-Saharan Africa will double to just over 2 billion by 2050. (c) Michael Jooß/GIZ

Dr. Felix zu Löwenstein

Felix Prinz zu Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg is a German agricultural scientist and farmer. He is known as a critic of industrial agriculture. As chairman of the BÖLW (Bund Ökologische Lebensmittelwirtschaft) he helps to promote the development of the organic food industry and to create sustainable framework conditions. He converted the Habitzheim estate, which has been owned by the family for 500 years, to organic.

Matthias Berninger

Since 2019, Matthias Berninger has been Head of Public Affairs, Science and Sustainability at the German pharmaceutical and agrochemical company Bayer. From 1994 to 2007 he was a member of the German Bundestag for the Green Party, and from 2001 to 2005 he was also Parliamentary State Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture. From 2008, he worked at Mars in the fields of communications, sustainability and strategy development, and from 2011 as Head of Public Affairs.

Mr Löwenstein, the philosopher Hans Jonas was a great influence in your life. As he said very clearly, technical innovations have become risks, even calling for a “heuristics of fear”. In his day, the global population was around four billion; now it is nearly eight billion. Do we need to be more open to innovation?

Löwenstein: For Jonas it wasn’t decisive that the technology of the past 150 years had become a risk in itself, but that technology was more powerful and effective than ever before. In other words, technology’s impact on humans has long outgrown its original parameters, both geographically and in time – a development which affects different continents as well as the future. Ethically speaking, this is a particular challenge.

 

So you believe Hans Jonas is as relevant as ever?

Löwenstein: Absolutely. Since then, we have seen a whole range of phenomena, such as climate change and the biodiversity crisis – effects far beyond what Jonas had imagined at the time. Nevertheless, from today’s perspective, his warnings of human impact seem prophetic. Hans Jonas advises us to listen to prophets of doom rather than those promising salvation. So when we look at innovations such as digitalisation, we must take a highly critical look at them, despite the tremendous changes they produce. We need to ask whether they really do mean progress for the future of humanity. It would be reckless to do otherwise.

 

Looking at them today, can you name three examples of agricultural innovations which, have led to an ethically questionable imbalance?

Löwenstein: The Haber-Bosch synthesis, synthetic chemistry and genetic engineering.

 

This takes us to the very heart of Bayer AG. Mr Berninger, you’ve said European politicians and NGOs opposing genome editing is the same as sultans snubbing the printing press during the Ottoman Empire. You say it would put Europe far behind the rest of the world in this field. Are you just being provocative, or is it your firm conviction?

Berninger: Both actually. Obviously, I want to make people think. Unfortunately, however, this isn’t just fiction. Let’s look at the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire as a hub of science. It owed its rise partly to its adaptation of paper production, long before we mastered the technology in Europe. Its decline, however, was partly caused by its dismissal of the printing press. Something similar is happening in the revolutionary changes taking place where genomics and artificial intelligence intersect.

 

Kenya / Machakos District: a farmer treats the planting of leguminous plants with a pesticide. (c) Christoph Püschner/Brot für die Welt

We are resisting a form of knowledge and its application, aren’t we?

Berninger: That’s right. Only a few weeks ago the EU indicated it wanted to take an even closer look at new types of crop breeding. This is good. Europe is a prime mover of innovation and plays a significant role in global food issues. In view of the climate catastrophe, I believe we should use the technologies we have to help farmers cope with climate change. I see this as a major change from the ancient genetic engineering debate, which was largely driven by agricultural economics. Today, however, we should focus more on the benefits for society as a whole.

 

Europe’s population is no longer increasing. In countries like France, the amount of woodland is growing due to intensive agriculture. Why exactly does Europe needs genome-edited crops?

Berninger: When it comes to food security, the bottom line is that Europe is self-sufficient. However, to cover its massive meat consumption, Europe depends on imports, especially from Latin America. The second reason Europe needs to look at genome editing is the global food situation. Unless we come to grips with the situation, we could see people uprooted on a massive scale. Take Egypt and Nigeria, for instance, which are the second and third largest global importers of wheat.

 

Europe needs to be part of a global consensus, so that new technologies can help to feed the growing population in those countries and improve their food situation. Europe should act as a role model. Your question seems to suggest a certain romantic complacency, which gives me cause for concern.

 

Mr Löwenstein, do you share these concerns?

Löwenstein: I am also familiar with the history of the Ottoman Empire. It’s a little misleading as a comparison and might not be such a reasonable parallel at all. Genetic engineering as a technology is widely used and is beneficial too. Think of vaccines, for instance. However, the problem starts when we no longer have control over reproduction of modified organisms. As far as agriculture is concerned, we need to distinguish between three factors. First, what is the actual potential of these technologies in view of the mentioned challenges? Second, why is it necessary to apply precautionary principles to technologies? You see, the issue is regulation, not whether genetic engineering should be banned. Third, is it a technology that should be used in organic farming?

 

Under the precautionary principle, it takes around 10 years until a variety receives approval. That’s a long time.

Löwenstein: It depends primarily on the relevant approval procedures, which are now being reviewed by the EU. Mr Berninger, however, is probably demanding that there should be no regulation at all.

 

Berninger: I actually think regulation is very important. However, we must ask whether we regulate to welcome something, or whether we are trying to prevent something. The underlying motivation should be to make something possible. Until now, that door had been shut in the EU. But now it is open. I do hope we won’t be walking through this door hanging onto our old lines of conflict.

 

Mr Löwenstein, do these old lines of conflict bother you? Or would you like to see this debate being continue in different manner than 30 years ago?

Löwenstein: Terms like these assume there is some sort of fixed ideology based on group affiliation, which I believe we should avoid. There is no question that certain world views play just as much of a role as certain interests. An example of these types of interests, held by corporations like Bayer, lies in developing genetically modified organisms covered by patents.

 

The point of regulations is to consider all the potential risks with a view to taking precautions. It’s a matter of safeguarding freedom of choice as an important democratic asset, both for consumers and in agriculture.

 

The CRISPR/Cas method, on the other hand, produces a new type of crop. In this case, the narrative of the “evil chemical corporation” whose resistance-linked chemicals force farmers to become reliant on their chemicals doesn’t quite seem to apply...

Berninger: We are talking about shorter varieties of maize that are more resistant to storms. We are talking about resistance to drought. And about accelerating crop breeding methods that help wheat adapt more quickly to climate change. Earlier in the talk, Haber-Bosch cropped up. The question here is will we manage to replace the Haber-Bosch method after only 100 years or so?  

 

How likely is it these beautiful new plants will be growing in fields all over the world in 10 years’ time?

Berninger: By the middle of the decade, this noticeably more storm-resistant variety of maize will be growing all over the world.

 

A farmer checking his conventionally bred maize. (c) GIZ/Alex Kamweru

Löwenstein: It’s an interesting example. On the one hand, it raises the question of the role a plant genome plays in solving problems. On the other hand, we need to ask what role does the agricultural system play? Following the devastating effects of the “Dust Bowl” in the 1930s, they started strip cropping in the United States as a way of slowing down wind erosion. However, with memory fading, the strips gradually grew wider and wider over the years, and the same problems returned. Both in this instance and generally speaking too, shouldn’t we be looking at improving climate resistance in how we design agricultural landscapes? What about soil fertility? And what about its water storage capacity? In fact, where climate resistance is concerned, these are the key points – not the potential of genetic engineering. In other words, we are putting the cart before the horse.

 

Berninger: I think we often tend to be obsessed with the wrong alternatives to choose from. Let’s just stay with the example of short-stem maize, which needs 20% less space to produce the same yield. This makes it possible to reconcile yield security and other forms of agricultural land design.

 

Löwenstein: Over the last 20 years, we’ve been hearing continually about an increase in yield through genetic engineering – yet it hasn’t happened.

 

Berninger: But the figures tell a different story.

 

Löwenstein: There are actually GM varieties that produce higher yields. That’s right. But it’s not due to genetic engineering. There isn't a single genetic trait that has made it into the field and which produces higher yields as a result of genetic modification.

 

Berninger: I disagree. The maize we mentioned earlier is a good example. This is a case where, thanks to genetic editing, very short-stem maize could be combined with an extremely high yield. It’s similar to the kind of wheat cultivation introduced by the Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug. The reason why such successes are possible is that the cost of genome analysis is dropping rapidly right now, so we can use more targeted methods in breeding crops. Bayer has decided to offer this technology in three different versions: conventionally bred, genetically edited and genetically modified maize. The latter also comes with additional features, insect resistance for example. We don’t want to prevent countries from accessing this innovation because they have decided to opt out of genetic engineering.

 

So you also succeeded in breeding this short-stem maize within a similarly short time, using conventional methods, did you?

Berninger: Yes, but the effects weren’t the same. When you compare the three methods, you can see that traditionally bred maize is far less resistant to storm than the genetically edited variety.

 

Mr Löwenstein, imagine CRISPR/Cas-edited short-stem maize used in an agricultural production system with crop rotation, hedges, trees and some moderate fertilisation. Would you be prepared to accept this technology in this case?

Löwenstein: Well, the insect resistance you just mentioned would again lead to a production system where crop rotation does not play a role. If we wanted to use a natural method for keeping insects at bay, it would necessarily lead to diversity through crop rotation. Once we take this into account, the innovation’s contribution appears in a different light. T

 

The storm-resistant maize presented by Mr Berninger allows a system to continue that devastates both biodiversity and the landscape, while keeping farmers dependent. And this despite the fact that storm resistance can be achieved through landscaping without any genetic engineering.

 

Berninger: I don't believe in the old enemy stereotypes. Looking at the discussions that took place at the UN Food Systems Summit, we can see a consensus emerging that today’s food systems face significant problems. The problems are well-known: deforestation, climate change, rural poverty and food insecurity. It makes me rather sceptical when people simply try to blame problems on the evils of industry. Instead of ascribing blame, we need to talk about how we can feed 8 billion people.

 

Africa’s population is a little over a billion and will grow to around two billion by 2050. There are also forecasts of global warming of up to three degrees in some places. Under these conditions, what kind of viable innovations can organic farming offer for Sub-Saharan Africa?

Löwenstein: I’ve been to places such as Senegal, Chad, Congo, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso. Typically, all these regions have smallholders. Labour isn’t the limiting factor for these farmers; land is. This drives them to create solutions and systems based on an enormous variety of crops that they grow with a very small amount of space at their disposal, and combine intelligently. These robust systems make do without any major external intervention. Moreover, their productivity is usually high. The reasons are not only soil fertility, but – thanks to the combination of several stages – also include more leaf space per square metre than a pure maize field. I have met farmers who go even further, combining aquaculture with mixed cultivation, for instance. These are innovative systems!

 

Well then, everything is all right then, isn’t it?

Löwenstein: I disagree. The problem with agriculture in those countries is that the proportion of these farmers is unfortunately rather small. The vast majority are imitating our monoculture systems with all their dependencies and risks. What we urgently need is innovations in terms of organic intensification combined with appropriate knowledge management. This would make it possible to achieve both aims in Africa: increased productivity and stability.

 

DR Congo, Katende: In a communal field, the inhabitants of two villages work together to cultivate the land. (c) Christoph Püschner/Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe

Doesn’t that convince you, Mr Berninger?

Berninger: I think organic farming can be highly innovative. I am and continue to be intrigued. Whenever I talk to Urs Niggli, for instance, who has done so much research in organic farming, I almost feel like an innovation shoplifter. I’m happy to apply some very good ideas. One important point is that smallholders will continue to dominate both African and Indian agriculture in future. It would be wrong to apply our idea of innovation one-to-one.

 

Mr Löwenstein, I went to Zambia, where I saw agricultural retailers selling chemicals and fertilisers out of their little huts. For the smallholders and their staple food, maize, these “agro-dealers” seem to play an important role. Considering the rise in global population, don’t you believe fertilisers and chemicals will be part of the solution?

Löwenstein: They will only be part of the solution if we preserve the systems that make them indispensable. Three years ago, I went on a very interesting trip to the Philippines for the German charity Misereor and visited farmers from the Masipag Movement. The farmers launched the group as a reaction against the Green Revolution’s high-yield varieties. They were unable to afford the varieties because of the required “inputs” and because they would have needed more water. Working together with universities in the Philippines, they started developing their own rice varieties. The results were extremely exciting in terms of properties for flood resistance, wrongly claimed as requiring genetic engineering. A Misereor study looked at the results these farmers were achieving. Compared with conventional farming, the findings showed clear advantages for food security, health, access to education and accumulation of equity.  

 

So why aren’t the farmers I visited in Zambia doing something similar?  

Löwenstein: When I asked why don’t all farmers adopt this strategy, the locals told me the people selling the inputs for “high-yielding varieties” are usually land owners too. I was also told they were offering credit. Certain dependencies can obstruct these types of innovation, but insufficient training and advice also play a role. The situation may be similar in Zambia.

 

Berninger: That's one of the things that really bother me, this simple view of the world. On the one hand, we have industry, evil and pushing farmers into dependency. On the other hand, we have highly the innovative solutions Vandana Shiva has in store for everyone. This isn’t how we’re going to solve food problems! No matter what kind of agriculture farmers follow, they have to deal with water shortages, extreme weather changes, insect plagues and much more. Whether a farm is large or small, whether it uses chemicals or not, everyone is severely affected. I don’t think much of this kind of dichotomy. It’s the result of an ideology-driven debate.

 

Who comes to mind?

Berninger: What particularly irritates me in discussions with Misereor is, for instance, their rejection of access to family planning. This would be extremely helpful, especially to women in farming communities. I’m quite pragmatic about the issue.

 

I believe most smallholders are extremely good businesspeople and survivalists. We need to get them access to solutions. It doesn’t matter whether it’s family planning, sensible fertilisers or the “right” chemicals.

 

We need to make sure they’re given the opportunities they need to lift themselves out of extreme poverty. And we can’t do that with our entrenched ideologies. If the technologies we mentioned were completely eradicated, there would be a very high risk of extreme harvest failures. Before these technologies were used, there were masses of devastating full-scale harvest failures – even in the best agricultural country, France. We don’t have anything like that anymore, thanks to crop protection.

 

Löwenstein: To raise the issue of an ideological debate and then take a stand against something the other side did not actually say – Mr Berninger is using a clever method and then following with their own ideologically shaded reasoning! We would do better if we spoke about chemicals specifically. I reckon we all agree it is not a matter of forcing a system onto anyone, for whatever reason. Instead, this is about smallholders – especially in Asia and Africa – and about their shortage of capital and the resulting dependency. A successful agricultural model for these farmers needs to be a system that doesn’t depend on inputs. This would really help them and ensure they achieve yield stability and food sovereignty. In fact, The Guardian recently reported on a new meta-study in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science. The study has highlighted the negative impact of pesticides on soil life. A fact which, unfortunately, hasn’t been getting much attention. But the impact is disastrous. Not just because organisms are killed that should be left unharmed, but also because such substances selectively interfere with ecosystems.

 

A meta-study recently published in the Journal Frontiers in Environmental Science highlights the negative effects of pesticides, whose substances selectively interfere with soil life and ecosystems. (c) Michael Jooß/GIZ

Berninger: To get back to Africa, I’d just like to mention two problems again. The first one is the fall armyworm, which has been spreading in Africa at an enormous speed and is depriving people of their livelihoods in rural areas. The second example is the plague of locusts, which we know is very closely linked to climate change. Why these two examples? We’ll be seeing several countries in Africa approving Bt maize, i.e. maize that has been rendered insect-resistant through genetic engineering, because – interestingly – those Bt maize trial fields have survived the fall armyworm. This shows us the benefits of such technologies particularly clearly. As regards the plague of locusts, we have an insecticide that is produced in France but hasn’t been licensed for the EU in this formulation. This insecticide was used against the locusts in an operation coordinated by the FAO. It has had a significant impact, helping to secure the livelihoods of 30 million people. These dimensions are sometimes lost in the debate.

 

We won't be able to feed eight billion people with anecdotes.

 

You are arguing on two different levels. The first level concerns the risks, mentioned by Mr Löwenstein, in the use of ecosystems, which for a long time have not been at the focus of attention in either government regulations or scientific assessments. The second level is the selective success stories suggesting the use of insecticides or even Bt maize. Mr Löwenstein, how would you assess these examples with regard to their innovative qualities? Are they innovations, or are they “last resorts” within an “upside-down system”?

Löwenstein: This plague of locusts is actually a very good example. We’ve probably come to a point now where there’s really no choice but to use this insecticide. But intervention could have happened much earlier. For quite a while now, there has already been an effective organic remedy to prevent individual locusts from joining together to form these swarms of hoppers, which are causing so much damage. What is needed here is suitable monitoring of this swarm formation, together with timely intervention. Secondly, there is a remedy, Green Muscle, that can be extracted from a fungus which grows in Niger. This can be used against locusts without causing any environmental damage. Unfortunately, however, it has never been produced in sufficient quantities, and so it is still not available to the present day. These are failures which make the use of synthetic chemical substances necessary, although it could all have been done differently. Even Bayer could produce Green Muscle in sufficient quantities. We need to find solutions that don’t interfere with ecosystems – solutions which must not be based on substances for which evolution has left those ecosystems unprepared. Otherwise, we’ll be causing effects which we cannot predict.

 

Mr Berninger, have companies like Bayer been underestimating the scale of the risk from pesticides for soil life?

Berninger: Well, on the one hand, I think it’s good that the issues of soil health and renewable agriculture are getting more and more attention. This is an area where we can learn a lot from organic farmers. Right now, we really are too dependent on agricultural chemicals developed in the 1940s and 1950s, and we need to switch to more modern ones instead. And, yes, on the whole, we do need to keep an eye on the environmental impact of agricultural chemicals. This is where the University of Copenhagen has conducted an excellent and very detailed study, which we used as a benchmark. To ensure soil health, we need less nitrogen fertiliser. However, this, too, requires technology again. One of the big “moon shots” I’d like to accomplish in my professional career is a valid alternative to the Haber-Bosch process. One that works on a scale of eight billion people.

 

Kotanega village in Kenya: At an agricultural seminar, smallholder farmers learn how to determine the slope for aligning furrows when plowing to protect against erosion. (c) Joerg Boethling

What could such an alternative look like?

Berninger: This is something where innovation is at the very root of the matter, so to speak. I’m talking about a combination of plants and soil biome. Again, it’s something where the organic revolution has been helpful. Bayer has been investing a lot of money in this area.

 

Bayer recently offered to pay nearly $12 billion in compensation. It seems that, after acquiring Monsanto, the company is now almost on the brink of the abyss. With hindsight, was glyphosate an innovation or the story of a mistake?

Berninger: Around the world, today’s agriculture depends on glyphosate. The same is true for food for eight billion people. However, it plays a lesser role in Europe. In tropical areas, but in North and South America too, today’s yields would be unthinkable without glyphosate. In 30 years’ time I believe we will no longer depend on glyphosate as much. There will always be innovations in developing herbicides. I generally feel uncomfortable about relying on chemical substances like we do now. This takes us back to the start of our discussion, Hans Jonas.

 

Mr Löwenstein, as a reader of Hans Jonas, did you perhaps suspect earlier glyphosate would create unilateral dependence?

Löwenstein: I’ve been an agriculturalist for quite a long time. I graduated in 1978. At the time, I learnt at Munich Technical University that nobody could extract a yield from a nature that is hostile and survive as a farmer without the saving hands of Bayer, BASF and Syngenta. In the winter months, the chemical industry would teach all further and advanced training courses. What I mean to say is that there was no alternative in my world view. It’s the same for most farmers today. There came the point, however, when I began to learn an important lesson. Several years ago, we banned the plough from our farm, because we wanted to stop interfering with the soil. We did so even though we didn’t have herbicides. Instead, we started using well-managed agricultural equipment.

 

So there is no need for glyphosate?

Löwenstein: Mr Berninger’s prospect of 30 years of glyphosate makes me shudder – a chemical compound patented as an antibiotic and with proven harmful effects on microorganisms. Let me be clear, I understand Bayer's problem. Organic farming – and I don’t just mean organic farming under EU directives – will always be a form of farming that needs less input. Of course, we also do a bit of spraying in organic farming, but only on about six percent of arable land. Under conventional methods, it’s 100 percent.

 

Even if organic inputs are a business sector within the industry, the revenue that can be achieved through organic farming will always be much lower. Business in the agricultural chemicals sector wouldn’t have much of a future.

 

Berninger: The question of how Bayer will make money concerns three fields in agriculture. First, it’s a matter of reducing CO2 emissions in farming. Second, it’s about how to enable farmers to capture CO2 from the air. And, third, how we improve resilience and safeguard global food supply. These are three areas where we will be making money. Our food systems problems are vast. But if we, as a company, can make a meaningful contribution to solving a problem, we will also be able to make money with it. We are worlds away from 1978, the year of your first experience in agriculture, Mr Löwenstein. Seven of the last ten Nobel Prizes in Chemistry have been awarded in the field of the organic revolution. This shows that there was a fundamental break with the past. We are living in a completely different world with totally different options in this area. I would like to see some involvement in the organic revolution on the part of those who can contribute a lot – and the ones I have in mind are organic farmers.

 

Kenia / Marsabit: a pastoralist on his parched grazing land. (c) Christoph Püschner/Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe

Löwenstein: You gave me quite a fright, there, when you mentioned CO2 extraction from the air as one of Bayer’s three future business fields in farming. Do you have a patent on photosynthesis now? That’s how nature does it, after all…

 

Berninger: On the serious side, let’s look at the maize we were talking about just now. One of this maize’s strengths is a root system that captures significantly more CO2. This never used to be of any interest. It was all about yields per hectare. Now, however, an important issue is how we can remove CO2 from the atmosphere, the only way to achieve a green zero in our climate balance. In the United States and Europe, completely new business sectors are about to emerge – as one of the consequences of the landmark decision in Brussels on climate protection.

 

Can you give any other examples of research and development in CO2 capturing?

Berninger: Another example is rice, which is sown dry and emits far less methane. It also needs much less water to grow. I think it’s a tremendous innovation.

 

Mr Löwenstein, how is CO2 captured in intensified organic farming?

Löwenstein: CO2 capturing happens when plants photosynthesise and either release carbon into the soil through their roots or send it into the soil through any of their dead parts. An intensive soil life then combines this into a long chain, creating a permanent humus. The process involves numerous breakdown and conversion processes, and a decisive role is played by diversity – both in plants and soil life. This is why, on average, organic farms generate more humus. Incidentally, I came across the dry rice Mr Berninger mentioned quite a while ago, in 1987, in today’s Democratic Republic of the Congo. Unfortunately, the project failed because a year later the United States harvested rice in surplus and gave it away to the Democratic Republic of the Congo as food aid. It’s not totally new.

 

Berninger: Let's be clear. Not everything has to be new. But I do believe we need to reassess everything against the background of climate catastrophe. Organic farming has certainly established itself. There’s no need for panic mongering or playing on people’s fears, only for them to pay premium prices. This is something where I’d like to see a bit more confidence and less of a “them and us” mentality.

 

Löwenstein: To leverage or tap the innovative potential of organic farming we would need to channel real amounts of money into this cross-the-board issue. The Swiss agricultural scientist Urs Niggli worked out that global expenditure in organic farming adds up to one per cent of all research funds. The EU has single-handedly invested €700 million in CRISPR/Cas over the past 10 years. This imbalance leads to path dependencies, and we cannot expect this from BASF or Bayer. In this area, public research institutions are involved that, in the EU alone, are spending huge amounts of money on this single technology.

 

Berninger: EU basic research in this area has substantially contributed to two of the three mRNA vaccine platforms that so greatly helped in the return to normality after the coronavirus pandemic. Again, I believe it would be wrong to say something went wrong because organic farmers didn’t get anything. The opposite is true. It would help organic farming considerably if we invested in these technologies.

 

You’ve both debated this area admirably and with great commitment. To conclude, could you recommend any recent literature for our readers on innovative thinking in agriculture and new ways ahead?

Berninger: I would recommend “The Profit and the Wizard” by Charles C. Mann.

 

Löwenstein: And my recommendation is “The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World” by Andrea Wulf.

 

Many thanks for the interview.

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The hope of development cooperation lays in innovation

Policy makers wish for innovation. But what is an innovation that truly takes Africa a step forward? With the support of the SEWOH partners, journalist Jan Grossarth took a critical look at the demand for innovation.

Is innovation a cure? A meaningless filler? Even problematic? And: In what way? Taking a critical post-colonial look at the past, the “innovation history” of Africa appears to be a double-edged sword, in any case. Historian Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga, who teaches at MIT in the USA, deplores the failure and even largely destructive effect of “western” technology and knowledge exports to Africa. In his works about innovation in Africa, “capitalistic entrepreneurship” appears as “imperialism” in modified form and downright “parasitical” in its nature. A problematic definition of innovation, he says, has been transferred to Africa particularly from Europe. A definition that is limited to technical aspects, industrial scaling and commercial use.

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Ms Neubert, what is a trilemma? And what can be done about it?

In order to alleviate the trilemma of land use, the climate crisis, the destruction of biodiversity and the food crisis must be addressed simultaneously. Susanne Neubert explains in an interview what such strategies might look like.

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Beyond your own field

An exchange program between the German Farmers' Association and the Andreas Hermes Academy for young German and Ugandan farmers shows: North-South cooperation works best at eye level. Four graduates report on what is possible when farmers learn from each other.

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Labels, customs tariffs and supply chain legislation: Do they benefit or harm smallholders?

In the discussion about sustainability in supply chains, European states focus on labels, customs tariffs and government regulations. With the support of the SEWOH partners, Jan Grossarth questions these measures.

After the eight-storey Rana Plaza factory collapsed in Bangladesh in April 2013, killing over a thousand textile workers under the rubble, the issue of human rights in sewing factories dominated global news for a few days. The initial shock turned into shame. After all, wasn’t everyone who bought cheap T-shirts and jeans somehow responsible? This was followed by a political debate: Hadn’t the disaster happened in a domain where the state, i.e. Bangladesh, should have ensured compliance with its laws? Or, on the other hand, do we not have a say in the regulations determining how the products we consume are manufactured? Not only through consumption, but through our government and companies?

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Farmers in revolt-their movement brings unity and hope

Since 2014, a law has guaranteed all Indians sufficient healthy food at affordable prices. Now one of the biggest waves of protest in history is rocking the subcontinent. Farmers are fighting back against laws that abolish guaranteed minimum prices and put nutrition programmes in jeopardy.  

 

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Deforestation and ecosystem conversion: a strict EU legal framework is imperative

Christine Scholl, Senior Advisor at WWF Germany, explains why a binding and comprehensive EU regulation is crucial in avoiding deforestation and conversion of valuable ecosystems and what such legislation must take into account.

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Banking on innovation and sustainability in the cocoa value chain

Juliette Kouassi founded the cocoa cooperative ABOUd'CAO in Côte d'Ivoire, which dismantles traditional role definitions. The aim is to promote women producers and "throw anything away in the cocoa value chain, by rendering value to everything."

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We begins with you: Three propositions for consumer communication

Generation Z (1995-2010) is forcing manufacturers of consumer goods to rethink their production values. The “Greta effect” not only compels companies to act. It also promises great potential for development cooperation to reach its goals.  

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The right to nutrition: how we can realise it

Stefan Schmitz is head of the Crop Trust and has been SEWOH Commissioner until 2019. We asked him which aspects of the SEWOH could be groundbreaking in order to achieve global goals such as SDG 2 at a national and a global level.

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Supply chains: “The EU’s general principle is to support, not to punish”

Aside from the German Federal government, EU institutions are also encouraging the introduction of a supply chain law. What would be the consequences? Questions for Bettina Rudloff of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP).

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A masterplan for nutrition governance

Ending worldwide hunger by 2030 requires effective governance. This masterplan is based on the experience of the GIZ global programme for “Food and Nutrition Security, Enhanced Resilience,” which works on improving nutrition governance in ten countries around the world.

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Creating a political momentum for global food governance

To feed the world's population in 2050, "the fine art of governance" is required, according to Jan Grossarth. With the help of the SEWOH partners, he has shed light on what this art includes and what challenges it encounters.

There has been some modest progress everywhere and in many thousands of local projects. But what if this won’t be enough in view of the global challenge? According to UN forecasts, Africa’s population is set to double by 2050, reaching over two billion people. Yet food imports on the continent are already exceeding exports, so it is not providing enough food for itself. Climate forecasts are predicting that in some African (and Asian) regions average temperatures will rise by 3 degrees or more. Moreover, deserts are spreading, with the prospect that development cooperation will be ineffective if it merely distributes resources under the watering can principle. 

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In the land of conflicts 

Land is the foundation of life for most Ugandans. In central Uganda, an ancient land tenure system has caused an impasse for both landlords and tenants hence causing conflicts for decades. An innovative approach to conflict solving, and awareness-raising is about to create change.

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Global Hunger Index: Political action is the key

The World Hunger Index 2020 indicates that the goal of "Zero Hunger by 2030" will not be met. Miriam Wiemers, leading expert for the World Hunger Index, traces the main challenges and describes how the path to Zero Hunger can be taken.

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How the Green Innovation Centre in Mali backs women in the San lowlands

Proper nutrition. An adequate diet. Higher incomes and more employment in rural areas. These are the goals of the 15 Green Innovation Centres established in Africa and Asia on behalf of the BMZ. But how are these goals put into practice in Bamako, Mali?

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Babban Gona's holistic financing approach

What are innovative financing mechanisms and how can financing help to scale innovations? Kola Masha, Managing Director of Babban Gona explains his holistic business model, which he built up in Nigeria with financial help and support from the German KfW.

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Even innovations take their time

Some good ideas never become reality. It takes patience, long-term thinking and the courage to learn from mistakes. Based on a conversation with software developer Simon Riedel, journalist Jan Rübel focused on the challenges of innovation in an international development context.

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Why successful transformation needs strong governance?

The special initiative One World no hunger (SEWOH) is one donor nation's attempt to decisively push forward the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG 2). Observations and conclusions from the accompanying discourse.

In the summer of 2019, António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), raised the alarm on the growing number of people going hungry. A “World Food Systems Summit” (UNFSS) in the autumn of 2021 intends to draw the necessary public attention to the issue of combatting hunger and increasing sustainability and provide fresh impetus for transforming the entire food system. In 2014, Germany’s Federal Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development, Gerd Müller, launched a remarkable experiment: SEWOH, the Special Initiative ONEWORLD No Hunger. The idea was to drastically advance UN Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG 2) with a sector approach initially driven by a single donor nation. Germany has invested around 1.5 billion euros annually towards achieving the UN goal, becoming the world’s second-largest donor in the fields of food security, rural development and agriculture. The initiative has explored new possibilities, yet it also had to face its limits. Vastly exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, it had to realise the vulnerabilities of global food security.  

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Climate crises

Population growth, lawlessness and dwindling resources, accelerated by climate change, are leading to conflicts that leave thousands dead across the Sahel every year. "Many will leave their homelands or perish from hunger, disease or wars. Only rapid socioeconomic development [...] would be able to prevent this disaster."

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