ROCK ISLAND — International farmers who convened in Rock Island this week made it clear they share common goals: boosting yields, reducing pesticide use, overcoming regulatory barriers and accessing technology.
Many said they want their own farms to achieve the level of productivity enjoyed by U.S. farmers whose options include improved seeds, robotics and modern machinery.
“We have arguably the most enviable agricultural system in the world,” said Dr. Sam Crowell, an agricultural advisor for the U.S. Department of State. “We’ve driven productivity through the roof. And we’ve done that because our farmers aren’t afraid of new technology.”
Dr. Crowell spoke to 40 farmers from 14 different countries keen on bringing agricultural technology to their own nations. Many of the farmers — who hailed from Argentina, Denmark, Ghana, India, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Philippines, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, United Kingdom, Vietnam and Zimbabwe — are waiting for their governments to approve genetically modified crops.
The farmers gathered for a Cornell Alliance for Science leadership course, through Cornell University, intended to help them gain communications skills to champion their own causes. For many, that cause is gaining access to GM crops that can help them improve their yields.
Farmers also are very interested in GM crops that offer traits such as drought tolerance and insect pest resistance.
“I really feel like GMOs can help Nigeria feed herself, and maybe even export food to some of our neighbors,” said Catherine Agbo, a young farmer who grows maize and sorghum. “It can also help us deal with devastating pests like fall armyworm.”
Dr. Crowell said the world needs to produce more food by 2050 than ever in the history of mankind.
“That is an incredibly staggering and scary problem,” he said. “Fortunately, we have a lot of inspiration to draw from. We’ve tripled yields since the last century by marrying good science with good farmer ingenuity.”
Liem Pham Quoc, a Vietnamese vegetable farmer, said he is eager to see more GM crops as a way to cut down on pesticides.
“If you go to the fields right now, the smell of chemicals is very strong,” he said. “Farmers are using many chemicals and it is bad for them and bad for the environment.”