Agriculture without innovation does not exist
This is categorically stated by Sergi Vizoso-Sansano, chemist and economist, current president of the CropLife Latin America Board of Directors, a guild that represents research and development companies in the agrochemical sector. Sergi has a career of more than 20 years at BASF, and currently holds the position of Senior Vice President of the Agriculture Solutions Division in Latin America.
Interview about the challenges of the sector in post-pandemic times
What are the challenges and opportunities for the industry?
On the one hand, there is the issue of producing with sustainability, we have already been doing it and we can always improve, we are aware and every day the entire industry works on improving our practices, our technologies. Sustainability will be one of our focus areas and it will also receive greater attention from society. A second element, which is a great opportunity, is closely linked to the digital world. With the pandemic, digital change and the acceptance of everything digital accelerated. For me, digital agriculture will be the agriculture of the future. Digital technologies can help the farmer with all of the complicated and important work.
What is the biggest challenge in the adoption of digital agriculture?
The challenge we face is the acceptance and adoption by all farmers, regardless of their size and location. Today we see that we have connectivity problems in many parts of Latin America. We also have to advance in how these farmers work with these technologies, how they understand them, comprehend them so that digital tools can really help them to have an even more profitable and sustainable production.
In addition to the connectivity and acceptance by farmers, do you think it is necessary to modernize laws that allow the entry of new technologies, such as digital agriculture?
Innovation is the cornerstone of our industry. Agriculture without innovation does not exist and the use of technologies in food production is essential. However, regulatory frameworks are required that allow access to and adoption of the innovations. The laws that govern our industry have to respond to the demands and needs of today’s market and also to the future and above all, they must take into account the scientific basis on which our technology is based. We see that governments sometimes take a long time to create new laws, or even, when there is legislation in place, they take a long time to implement it. The ability to enforce legislation is very important to ensure that technology and innovation reach our markets in a timely manner. This is very important because it affects the competitiveness of our farmer, who is largely export oriented.
What topics are pending for regulation?
The regulation of biologicals, or the regulation of the use of technologies that are already used in other industries and that are now used in agriculture, for example, the use of drones. In other areas, perhaps due to unfamiliarity or caution, there is an over-regulation. All these elements sometimes mean that the technologies do not reach our farmers in a swift way and make them less competitive.
As a research and development industry are you comfortable with the intellectual property protection?
Research and development companies invest very strong capital, year after year, in developing new technologies and in order to continue with this creation wheel of innovation in agriculture they need laws that protect them. Sometimes those laws are a challenge that we have globally.
Sustainability today is one of the central issues on the global agenda. How do you define it?
Sustainability is being able to continue with the agricultural activity indefinitely, and that implies that it is economically profitable because if I cannot live from it one day I will leave it; that it really allows to bring and distribute wealth in society; and also that it has respect and care for the environment, fauna, flora, water, because if we finally run out of land, there will be no agriculture either. We have to find the balance of these three great pillars; only through this balance will we be able to produce food in a continuous and sustainable way.
Another of the global issues that impact Latin America is the Green Deal and the European policy Farm to Fork, which point towards greater sustainability, what is your vision?
The Green Deal, which goes beyond agriculture, is a political-economic, industrial vision for Europe, where sustainability has a very relevant weight. I believe that we can unite in pursuit of a common goal as an industry, and that goal has to be to move towards a more sustainable agricultural production. Then we can discuss how. The how is part of the dialogue. Farm To Fork, which is more specific to the agricultural world, is in line with the efforts that we have as an industry to transform this sector in the world so that it is more sustainable.
How to make that transition to a more sustainable agriculture?
I would like us to have a place at the dialogue table to present our point of view. We are an exporting region, which exports a lot to Europe, and I believe that we also have to have a voice in how we are going to make that transition. We already have diplomatic missions from Latin America that are working in that direction, in creating, in opening these paths of dialogue with our European peers, to also show them what we are already doing in Latin America. We must explain what we do, we already have legislation to make agriculture that is sustainable. We have the region with the highest use of no till in the world, which is a very well developed and recognized sustainable tactic.
Differentiating the needs of tropical agriculture versus seasonal agriculture in Europe is one of the issues that European policy must consider. Why?
The pressure of diseases, weeds and pests is much stronger in our tropical areas, that is why we in the companies that are represented by CropLife Latin America, also develop solutions that are differentiated to the needs of agriculture in each of the countries. So it's no wonder that we have different products in different countries. Even in Europe, products change. Because what you need in the north of Germany is different from what you need in the south of Spain or in Italy, for example. It is different for the same crop because the environment is different. In other words, agriculture with differentiated needs requires technologies adapted to local needs.
Another issue that you have been working on is highlighting the impact of the illegal trade of crop protection products. What is the situation in Latin America?
The issue of illegal trade in agricultural or crop protection products is a global problem. The United Nations estimates - because there is no concrete data - that the illegal market revolves more or less around 20 or 30% of the regulated market for agricultural inputs. We are facing a problem, facing a reality that we have to work on. Here oversight plays a direct and important role. People, criminals, let me use the word, that do that, they do it consciously. They know very well that what they are doing is an illegal practice, and therefore should be treated as a crime. And I am not only concerned about the economic part, I am also concerned about health and the environment. I think the authorities would have to take a much firmer position.
How do you see agriculture in the post-pandemic scenario?
We live in a time where opportunities for agriculture have never been so great. It was demonstrated during the pandemic that the agribusiness and agriculture industry, which did not stop, is one of the few things that are really necessary in this life. One can decide whether to buy a car or not, to renovate the house or not, but food is a basic necessity. In general, I believe that Latin America, if we think about the agri-food world, has impressive potential. I really think we have a good future ahead of us.