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Growing more with less through a paradigm shift

by Gal Yarden

It’s just over a year now since we as individual companies found ourselves in a room preparing to embark on a journey. We came together as partners, as an alliance to launch Better Life Farming – and what a journey it has been so far.

Gal Yarden,

SVP Marketing, Products and Agronomy at Netafim

In this short span of time, we as Better Life Farming were able to grow exponentially and make an impact in smallholder communities around the world. When thinking about our biggest successes, Lino Dias, Smallholder Farming Vice President at Bayer, sees the first launch we had in Uttar Pradesh, India, right at the forefront. That’s where “we were able to double the productivity of green chili smallholders and triple their income”. We see this has far-reaching impacts that go beyond the individual smallholder. As Pam Strifler, Vice President Global Stakeholder Strategy and Affairs at Bayer, puts it, “if we work to help them grow their own livelihoods, they in turn grow their community, and we end up feeding a growing population as well.”

Nevertheless, the challenges of smallholders are multifold and call for multiple competencies to address them. The dramatic consequences of climate change and the associated water shortage, for example, hinder smallholders from unlocking their full agronomic potential. At the same time, pests and crop diseases can have a major impact on both the quality and quantity of the yield at the end of a season. However, as an alliance, we can provide an ecosystem of solutions. While Bayer is able to contribute with cutting-edge technology on seeds and crop protection, we at Netafim are the experts when it comes to precision irrigation for higher yields, improved land use, and sustainable use of scarce water resources to help grow much more with less.

Even if the weather is not controllable, the issue of water shortage can be tackled with the right irrigation system. Our drip irrigation technology provides the solution in form of a highly efficient water, nutrient and crop protection delivery system for growing different crops with less water. It delivers water, nutrients and crop protection directly to the crop’s roots, in the right amounts, at the right time, so each plant gets exactly what it needs, when it needs it, to grow optimally. This is done by driplines that extend across the entire field. I truly believe that drip irrigation can change the lives of smallholders because at the end of the day, it helps them to grow more with less. Thanks to drip irrigation, smallholders can produce higher yields while saving water as well as fertilizers, energy and even crop protection products. It’s a driving technology when it comes to growing crops that have a very high demand for water, such as rice.

In Asia alone, more than 90% of the world’s rice supply is predominantly produced by smallholders. This requires a lot of water. At the same time, a growing world population depends on rice as a staple food. So helping rice smallholders to grow more with less to increase both their productivity and profitability is vital.

By pioneering drip irrigation for rice, we set off on a new terrain of farming practice to do so. As my colleague Dubi Raz, Global Agronomy Director at Netafim, frequently points out to me, “farmers have successfully grown their rice through flood irrigation for more than 5,000 years. When I tell smallholders that drip irrigation helps them to grow even more with just drops of water, I am understandably confronted with skepticism and disbelief. It’s a paradigm shift for them.

You can have the most innovative technology, but if you don’t know how to transfer it, it just doesn’t work.Dubi Raz

That’s when I realized that social work is so much more important than the technology itself. You can have the most innovative technology, but if you don’t know how to transfer it, it just doesn’t work.” That’s why for Dubi Raz and his team, the majority of their work is all about being in the field together with smallholders, meeting at eye-level, working hand-in-hand and understanding farming from their point of view to become a trusted partner standing by their side. “I remember when a smallholder farmer I have known for 20 years first saw the difference between a drip irrigated field and one that was irrigated through traditional practices,” Dubi Raz reminisces fondly. “For me it was obvious, but he was shocked. He couldn’t believe it. Together, we then implemented drip irrigation in his field and today he’s a very satisfied and prosperous farmer. That’s what I really enjoy about my job. Seeing how we can really make a difference in people’s lives.”

Through innovations like our drip irrigation, we already have some great success stories in Asian countries. When we think about the future, our ambition is to also enable this success in Africa in 2019. Lino Dias puts this quite eloquently: “The key word that comes to my mind when I think about the future of Better Life Farming is scaling up” – and that is what we are striving to do together with smallholders all around the world.