UAE-US plan to drive farming revolution set for launch, US agriculture chief says

Funding will drive innovations in gene editing, drought-proof irrigation systems and address alarming rates of world hunger

US Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack has said a US-UAE plan to fight hunger by driving research into new farming techniques was growing fast and would likely be launched at key climate talks in Glasgow starting next month.

Mr Vilsack said the number of countries involved in the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate had tripled to 18 since it was unveiled at US President Joe Biden’s climate summit in April and that research priorities were being identified.

Once operational, the “AIM for Climate” initiative will drive research into innovations to boost agricultural output and feed the world’s 800 million hungry people while cutting the industry’s emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.

“The key here is to try to get as many countries committed to accelerating and to co-ordinating and to share research so that we can get the technologies and the techniques into the field that will ultimately allow us to reduce the emissions connected to agriculture,” Mr Vilsack told The National on Thursday.

He said the programme would probably have a “formal launch” at the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow, which kicks off on October 31 and aims to drive ambitious global climate action — and the money to pay for it — as global warming spirals out of control.

Mr Vilsack called for more research into gene editing - which seeks to alter the DNA of plants and animals to boost yields - and ways to increase water supplies and irrigate crops amid the droughts that increasingly ravage farmlands as the planet warms.

“We know the research that's necessary to accelerate more sustainable production. We know that there are climate-smart technologies and approaches that need to be advanced,” said Mr Vilsack.

“The question is, how do we accelerate the research on gene editing? How do we accelerate the technologies that we know will ultimately help us get to a net-zero future in agriculture?”

Mr Vilsack spoke as officials gathered for an online food summit at the annual UN General Assembly in New York, aimed at revamping agricultural systems to feed more people while causing less harm to the planet.

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres has said that one third of all greenhouse gases are emitted by the world’s farming and delivery systems and agriculture chiefs should switch to “nature-based solutions”.

At the talks, the US announced it would invest more than $10 billion over several years to promote a transformation of food systems by cutting food waste, improving infrastructure and other steps.

Amina Mohammed, deputy head of the world body, said research programmes — such as AIM for Climate — would help if innovations more frequently made it out of the lab and into fields across the developing world.

“There’s an abundance of existing research that needs to be lifted and taken to the country level,” said Ms Mohammed. “We need to build the science and research capacity at the local level as well.”

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, unveiled the programme in April at Mr Biden’s climate summit of 40 world leaders, which focused on getting the world back on track to keeping global temperature rise under control.

Updated: September 23rd 2021, 7:20 PM
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