USDA: Biotech can boost agriculture productivity, sustainability

Climate change poses an increasing number of challenges to food production and supply chains around the globe, and the world needs solutions.

Luckily, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is working to advance initiatives to drive agricultural biotech innovation and deployment worldwide, as experts explained during a webinar yesterday sponsored by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO).

“Global agricultural productivity growth is on average 21% lower than it would have been without climate change,” said Elise Golan, Director, Sustainable Development at USDA’s Office of the Chief Economist. “This is equivalent to losing about seven years of farm productivity increases since the 1960s.”

And the problem is only getting worse.

“The [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] projects that as much as 30% of agricultural land worldwide could become unsuitable for farming in the coming decades,” continued Golan.

“It’s now or never if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C,” said IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Jim Skea when the report was released in April. “Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”

BioNews has reported that one of the key steps to steer clear of dangerous warming is a substantial reduction of fossil fuels. The most effective ways to do this include using sustainable sources of energy like wind and solar, using alternative fuels (like biofuels), widespread electrification with renewables, and improving energy efficiency, according to IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report.

More investment in biotech is needed to combat climate change

Although biotech innovations have great potential and are impactful when it comes to addressing climate change, they’re not getting enough attention.

For example, there is less investment in this segment than in wind and solar energy, according to Jaime C. Adams, a senior policy advisor at USDA, who also spoke during BIO’s webinar.

However, several international initiatives are underway to help drive agricultural biotechnology forward. USDA is working to expand these initiatives including:

  • Agriculture Innovation Mission (AIM) for Climate, which came out of COP26 in October. AIM for Climate focuses on “empowering agriculture innovation to address the climate crisis,” said Adams, by bringing “agriculture to the table.”
  • Sustainable Productivity Growth Coalition, launched by the U.S. at UN Food Systems Summit last fall. This coalition seeks to optimize agricultural sustainability across social, economic, and environmental dimensions. The coalition has been engaged in global “messaging to convey the importance of sustainable ag productivity growth,” said Cathy McKinnell, a USDA senior policy advisor on trade and geographic affairs.

The Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) supports these initiatives.

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