Creating a More Resilient Food System Post COVID-19

Through our AgTech NEXT Now! webinars, the Danforth Center has been speaking to agri-food and agtech experts, like Chip Lerwick and Mary Shelman. The conversations have provided insight into how the entire food system, from cutting-edge agtech startups to smallholder farmers in developing countries, have felt the impact of COVID-19. During these programs, it has become clear that the Danforth Center’s mission has never been more important. 

The Impact on Smallholder Farmers

Chip Lerwick shared that smallholder farmers are likely experiencing more challenges than ever during the pandemic. “The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to disrupt the food supply chain of developing economies of India, Africa and elsewhere to an even greater extent than in developed economies like the U.S. and Europe,” says Chip Lerwick (Q&A with Chip Lerwick via AgTech NEXT). He also cited the World Economic Forum, which shared that COVID-19 amplifies the risk of a worldwide food-price spike. In Kenya, the price of maize, a staple food crop, has risen by over 60% since 2019 (World Economic Forum).

The pandemic has further emphasized the need to make cutting-edge technology accessible to smallholder farmers. Danforth Center scientists and collaborators are hoping that improved cassava can help. Currently, the Kenyan government is considering approval of a new type of cassava resistant to cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) developed by a consortium of researchers at the Danforth Center, the Kenyan Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization, and the National Crops Resources Research Institute in Uganda working under the Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa Plus (VIRCA Plus) project. 

The improved cassava can protect farmers from devastating losses of this important food crop and contribute to the creation of jobs along the value chain due to the crop’s use as animal feed and a source of starch for industry.

An Opportunity for Innovation

COVID-19 has also shown that there is a need to build greater resiliency into global food systems. Claire Kinlaw, monk, explained that one way to do this is to use innovation to develop and commercialize new crops. We’re currently collaborating with two companies that are trying to do just that. 

CoverCress, a startup based in BRDG Park and the 39 North district, is already in the process of creating innovative solutions. They have developed a new oilseed crop grown over winter between normal full-season corn and soybeans that serves as a cover crop while also producing oil and high protein feed that can fit markets similar to canola. TerViva, a company in our newest IN2 cohort, is developing Pongamia, an oilseed tree crop that produces large quantities of alternative protein and vegetable oil. 

Innovative entrepreneurs, companies, and scientists collaborating together to develop new solutions are essential to creating a more resilient food system post-COVID-19.