Thought Leader Series: Agnes Kalibata on science and the future of farming

Agnes Kalibata is a Rwandan-born agricultural scientist and policymaker. She was recently appointed as UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ special envoy for the 2021 Food Systems Summit, which calls for tangible action on how we produce food to address the limitations of our food system in feeding the global population of the future. Today, we share some insights from an interview Kalibata did with TIME on how science and agriculture will join forces to improve food access and supply. 

The first step Kalibata identifies as critical for addressing climate-related crop loss is educating farmers on drought-resistant crop varieties. In marginal areas, where farmers are already experiencing 20 percent lower yields due to the changing climate, these crops can make a big difference. In addition to partnering with farmers to bring them new crops, ecosystem education on best regenerative practices in terms of soil choice and irrigation is also key. Kalibata also highlights farmers’ insurance as a valuable asset to tide farmers over in low-yield years. 

Farming technology improvements are also helping farmers combat climate challenges. Kalibata says that African regions are not fearful of this new technology, they just need to be introduced to it and its benefits. Technology like soil sensors, drop-monitoring drones, and genetic modification can be a real asset for these farmers if we demonstrate how effective they are. To reiterate this, she uses the example of drones in Rwanda. Residents were unsure about the technology at first, but when they saw the efficacy of using drones to quickly deliver medicine to clinics around the country, they embraced the new tool. 

Kalibata also praises insect protein as a superfood. The only issue is overcoming the cultural barrier to bring them mainstream. Otherwise, when it comes to the future of food, she says that young farmers will be the vehicle for ushering in a new age of sustainable farming. In her work with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, 50 percent of the farmers she engages with are under 35. And they’re ready to use these new tools at their disposal. She says, “The transformation of African food systems will come when young people are farming and making farming productive.”

Image source: Agnes Kalibata

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