By Jacqueline Heard, CEO and Founder
2022 was an inflection point for the global food system: magnifying persistent challenges and creating unexpected new ones for farmers, testing leaders’ wills and skills to address those challenges, and saddling consumers with food shortages and rising prices.
With a new year on the horizon, I’m reflecting on what has happened, what’s next and where Enko fits into developing solutions that can make the system more resilient.
A year of interconnected adversities
Let’s start with a brief look back at 2022. Just ten months ago, a global food crisis began when Russia invaded Ukraine, one of the world’s top exporters of commodity crops including wheat, corn and barley. Disruptions to these exports were devastating: by June, the price of wheat in Africa had risen by 45%. The war’s effects rippled out to farmers across the globe as the cost of pesticides and fertilizer skyrocketed.
Meanwhile, severe weather worsened by climate change—like unprecedented flooding in Pakistan, a devastating heat wave in Europe and grinding drought in South America—withered crop yields and drove up food prices. Rising temperatures also worsen resistance to the chemicals growers use to keep their crops healthy.
Our Scientific Advisory Board Member Dr. Stephen Powles, who is a farmer in Western Australia, recently shared his personal experience with these challenges:
Farmers take a big risk each year investing a lot of money in chemicals, which they hope will pay off at the end of the growing season. Drought, extreme temperatures, bugs, and weeds all add to that risk. Output at the end of the season is not guaranteed. Risk has always been a part of farming, but with so many new variables, it’s becoming even more real.
In the European Union and Mexico, farmers feared they’d soon have to take on new risks as leaders called for complete pesticide bans. Growers pushed back, urging them to consider how devastating such bans would be for food systems, economies and farmers’ livelihoods. After all, Sri Lanka’s nationwide shift to organic farming showed us the catastrophic effects of removing chemistry from the growing equation.
Together, these threats to global agriculture created what the United Nations calls “the largest global food crisis in modern history.” This is all the more daunting considering our population has climbed to eight billion people and will add another billion in the next fifteen years.
Creating interconnected solutions
With challenges of this scale, it’s difficult to feel hopeful about the future of our food system. But for two reasons, I do.
First, I’m encouraged by how the dialogue around these issues has expanded. Agriculture was a key focus at COP27, with leaders acknowledging the central role it must play in discussions about climate change. Inflation also forced consumers to buy food more thoughtfully. My hope is that this broader awareness will unify us to seek global solutions to these global problems.
Most of all, I’m hopeful because I know how technology has empowered us to overcome challenges of this magnitude before. Consider how the Haber-Bosch process, which transformed nitrogen into fertilizer, helped farmers grow enough food for billions more people. Or how the development of higher-yield rice in China and the Green Revolution in India stemmed food insecurity and malnutrition for billions of people. Examples of technology making agriculture more efficient and productive abound. I believe it can again – but this time, we must center sustainability within the equation.
In 2023, the Enko team and I will continue participating in the dialogue about these challenges with farmers, industry peers and leaders through our partnerships and as a member of the World Economic Forum’s Technology Pioneers. And we will double down on our mission to put new crop protection chemistry in farmers’ hands faster by applying AI, machine learning and other technologies. As I wrote this year, safer and more effective chemistry is not a panacea to make our global food system more resilient – but it can make a meaningful difference. I’m energized knowing that our work contributes to the next evolution of our food system.
The SVG Ventures THRIVE Award acknowledges the Enko team’s accomplishments discovering and developing safe and novel small molecules across all indications – herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides.
By Jacqueline Heard, Founder and CEO, Enko - We’re proud to work with investors who recognize the imperative of getting new crop health solutions into farmers’ hands quickly in response to these mounting threats.
As an agricultural industry innovator, Jacqueline Heard, Founder and CEO of Enko, offers her thoughts on the future of world food security after participating in the 2023 World Economic Forum.