Strategy 2014-20

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Strategy 2014-20 / / Visioning the agricultural science of the future

Visioning the agricultural science of the future

In updating CIAT’s strategy, we must take stock of where agricultural science is heading and what new tools it will create over the next decade or so.

john_hamerCIAT Board of Trustees member John Hamer shared with us his vision of the future of agricultural science and technology via an e-meeting held with Center leaders, scientists, and students at our headquarters in Cali during late April. Hamer’s career spans more than three decades of research, senior management, and investment experience in the life sciences. He is currently investment director for Monsanto Growth Ventures, which fosters the development of an innovation supply chain that links researchers, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and emerging high-technology companies.

Hamer described how emerging innovations in crop improvement and management might ultimately translate into new products and market opportunities that could fundamentally change how our food is grown. He stressed the critical role that information will play, as the costs of its collection, handling, transfer, and availability decline sharply. This will give rise, he suggested, to increasing integration of the biological and information sciences. The crop sciences in particular are likely to witness rapid expansion in DNA sequence analysis, widening application of genome editing, increasing use of microbes and other biologics in agriculture, and new forms of smart farming and integrated farming systems.

Commenting on the relevance of these innovations to CGIAR research, Hamer made four points: (1)data management and handling will become key tasks; (2) as collecting data gets cheaper, the big challenge will be to process and deliver useful data; (3) a further challenge will be to recruit “data scientists,” i.e., early career software engineers who understand the requirements of crop improvement; and (4) funding for this work will likely come from new sources.

Part of CIAT’s job will be to turn advanced technologies from the private sector into public goods that respond to the needs of smallholder farmers in the tropics.