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Diplomacy in Action

Precision Agriculture and Global Food Security


Remarks
Office of the Science and Technology Adviser
Dr. Raj Khosla
Washington, DC
March 26, 2013

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WILLIAM COLGLAZIER:  I’d like to welcome all of you to another in our series of Jefferson Science Fellow Lectures. For those of you who may not be familiar with the program, it’s a little over eight years old. It brings together distinguished academics from American universities that are in science, engineering, or medicine to come and work in the State Department for a year, then to be available for four or five years after that as consultants. And they -- it’s not only working in the State Department, but also there’s several that work at USAID. And they work in the regional bureaus and functional bureaus in the State Department and at various assignments also at AID.

So we are fortunate today to have Professor Raj Khosla. He is a professor at Colorado State University. He’s going to be talking about precision agriculture and global food security. He is a world-class expert on precision agriculture, so I think it will be a fascinating talk. He -- at the State Department he’s serving as a Senior Science Advisor in the EAP Bureau, the Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs in the Office of Economic Policy. He is the U.S. Government representative on the Policy Partnership on Food Security for APEC, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.

I just talked to him right now. He’s been extremely busy in that role over the last couple months. He’s also a member of the U.S. Presidential Advisory Board on Positioning, Navigation, and Timing where he works on space-based position, navigation, and timing policy. His professorship at Colorado State University is the distinguished Monfort Professor. His main research focus has been on the management of in-field soil and crop spatial variability using innovative geo-spatial and IT technologies for the purpose of enhancing crop output, productivity, profitability, and sustainability both for large and small agriculture production systems. He’s a Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy, a Fellow of the Soil Science Society of America, Fellow of the Soil and Water Conservation Society, and he’s the founder and the past president of the International Society of Precision Agriculture. So it’s great to have him give us all a lecture, and we look forward to listening to him.

RAJ KHOSLA:  Thank you, Bill, for that very kind introduction. First of all, I would like to welcome you all. Good morning.

AUDIENCE:  Good morning.

RAJ KHOSLA:  Good morning. All right. We’re all connected. We’re active to address -- and I’m going to share and learn at the same time this grand challenge of global food security. I’m going to wear my CSU hat, or Colorado State University hat. I work with very large environment in terms of managing spatial and temporal variability in farm fields, and how could we take advantage of some of the techniques that we have developed in large-scale environment in U.S., Australia, Germany and so forth, and take it into other environments where the field sizes are very small and resources are very poor or limiting and translate that into high productivity, profitability, higher efficiency, and sustainability.

So I’ll share with you some of the work and the development that has happened in U.S. and then some of the projects that I’ve been involved in other parts of the world. So how many of you believe in “a picture is worth a thousand words?” Couple of hands? I thought we were all engaged; we were active here. So here’s a picture for you. Where is this coming from? Or what’s the significance of this picture? You’ve got a steering wheel, a word processor, monitor, lots of control panels. Any guesses?

QUESTION:  [inaudible]

RAJ KHOSLA:  Photoshop, okay. [laughs] Yeah, it is a computer, but what’s special about this computer? Rand Corporation in 1964 hypothesized that if computers ever make it into our households, this is how it’s going to look like in 2004. Now how many of you are using computers like this? Nobody? Well, what’s my message here? My message here is that as human beings we tend to underestimate our potential, and that may not be a bad thing. It is very hard for us to look into the future and envision how things will be. Now honestly, how many of you have thought of using computers like this just five or six years back? And tablets are a way of life, right? Okay? And again, so things are changing rapidly and dramatically in some cases when it comes to information technology. How have things changed when we talk about or think about agriculture? So let me walk you through where things were and how things are today.

So here’s an image coming from early 1900s. Three gentlemen farmers harvesting -- with large hand sickle harvesting their crop, and at the end of the day, they would cover about three acres or a little under one and a half hectare of land. Right? And after a hard day of labor and effort, how much will they harvest? About fifty bushels or about 1.3 tons, right? And some of you who are working in the global food security space, you’re saying, “Wow. Those are the kinds of yields that are current in certain environments in today’s day and technology.” Right? Half a ton per hectare, that’s not unheard of when you think about South Asia or Africa. But if these three people were alive today, what would they be doing? Same process, but now they would be plowing through their field using large combines, right? And in a day, how many acres would they cover? This is just a mathematical average. People who are in agriculture systems know that when you’re harvesting, the days are 10, 14, 16 hours long, and so that number would be a lot larger than 300 acres. Right? And if you take a closer look, there’s nobody in the combine. Today we have the technology, called autopilot systems, which were developed for flying airplanes. In fact, when you get to the cruising altitude, the pilot puts it on an automatic mode so that it cruises along. We use similar technology in farming operations in the U.S. The most recent survey that was done across 33 states in the U.S. showed, among the respondents, 76 percent of them said that they’re using some form of auto-guidance or autopilot systems, in the U.S. Dramatically changing.

In fact, if you look at the resolution with which this tractor moves through the field, it’s better than the thickness of my finger. Very high resolution GPS system that is used. Now OSHA regulations are such that, you know, somebody must be sitting behind the steering wheel. They can’t let the tractor go by on its own, right? And how much harvest are we talking about? More than a thousand tons in a day. Right? So in the last hundred years, we have come a long ways. We were talking about three people working the same, in this example, and we’ve gone from a little over a ton to more than thousand tons. So, we have made a lot of progress when it comes to agriculture, at least in North America, right?

Not only that, when these farmers get done harvesting, every combine will produce a digital portrait of your field. Pixel by pixel, it will tell you how much grain was harvested; when was it harvested; where was it harvested, okay? So you get a very detailed snapshot of your field. In fact, every pixel have 22 data layers. In one of my classes I teach at CSU, I ask my students, “How many data points are we talking about from one field about a quarter section in size, which is kind of normal in Colorado?” Anybody wants to take a guess how many data points we are talking about here? A lot, right? It’s more than one million data points. And what is my message here? Think about the farmers traditionally, at the end of the day when they’re done harvesting, traditionally they get one number, right? These many tons per unit -- per unit area.

Today they are working with so many data points that it requires all these numbers to go into a decision support system. A lot of data mining and number crunching to translate into a better decision so that you can manage your inputs appropriately, at the right time, in the right amount, at the right place, enhance efficiency and productivity. And how do you do that? So this is a very common high-clearance applicator. It is so high that I can -- if I watch my head, I can walk underneath. And the reason it has high clearance is because it gives you the opportunity to go in and out of the field anytime of the growing season. It gives you the opportunity to spoon-feed the crop how much it needs, when it needs, and how it needs.

At the front of the tractor, what you see here are sensors. These are active sensors, have their own source of energy. You can use them day or night, right? And they sense the information, which is reflectance, to the computer on the combine or the tractor in this case. And my labs and several other laboratories around the U.S. and other places, develop algorithms to translate the multi-spectral reflectance data that they’re gathering into a decision model. So think about it. The tractor -- this is happening in motion. The tractor is moving at about four and a half, five miles an hour. It’s picking up data from the crop canopy; talking right there. Okay? Sending that information to the computer in the tractor, using the algorithm, running it, and sending the signal to the pressure transducers at the back of the tractor. Three seconds later when the sprayer get to the position where it read that information, it squirts out the right amount of input, at the right time, at the right place. This is almost similar to talking to the plants, “Hey, how you doing? What would you like? Phosphorous? Nitrogen?” We’re not there yet, but we’re trying. And I’m trying to make it very simple. It’s not that simple. There’s a lot of science that goes behind that. And think about another aspect. These sensors were previously available only on satellites or belly-mounted airplanes. Today, you can handhold them or mount it on the tractor. Right?

So I talked about changes that have happened in information technology in the last fifty or so years, and then I talked about changes that have happened in agriculture in the last hundred years or so. And we’re talking about change, right? So how have our lives changed? Just in a short span. So this is how things were in 1990, right? And this is how things are today, right? But lighter side aside, there are global concerns, many of them.

One of them that is very near and dear to my heart and many of you sitting in this room is food security or lack thereof, right? And along with food security goes several other concerns such as environmental degradation, right? When we talk about producing more food so it becomes accessible and available to all environments, what would it take to deliver that amount of food? And how would we have -- how would we strike a balance within the environment? Climate change. We all know that climate is changing. Whether you are for it or you are against it, climate is changing, and the patterns are changing. So how do we deal with year-to-year changes when we think about producing more food? Water or lack thereof.

Water is precious and it’s becoming more precious. I can speak for Colorado. Eighty-some percent of water in Colorado is used in agriculture. Colorado is a net influx in terms of population, people moving in; our population is increasing. And now, municipalities are working with farmers to buy water from them so that they can siphon it from agriculture into municipalities. So there is an urban-rural interface and competition right there, because townships see agriculture as a source for water. So how would we produce more with less water? Energy. We all know that a big chunk of grain production for example, or a significant chunk, is now going into energy production. So we have multiple, external pressures: water, less availability, energy. Again, there are issues such as nutraceuticals or organic environment. How do we all play -- how do they all play as we talk about addressing global food security? And I know there are several aspects of global food security. Production is just one of them, and that’s what I’m talking about; there -- accessibility, availability, distribution and so forth.

And I put the picture of Dr. Borlaug, father of green revolution, and I ask myself and many of you sitting in this room that how do we work together to address some of the concerns that I’ve listed right here? There are a number of definitions out there on food security: production, availability, accessibility, utilization. And the aspect that I’m focusing on today in my talk is primarily the production.

So here’s a snapshot of global food grain production since 1980, right? And you look at the red line, which is the production, or the blue line, which is the consumption. It looks like they’re straddling right along, but if you look at the last six years or closer snapshot, six out of nine years accumulated shortfall of 120 million metric ton. Right? That’s a pretty large number. And if you look at the population, which is growing dramatically, causing an impact on the demand for food, we’re adding -- there are several estimates out there -- roughly 80 million people per year. That is increasing the demand by additional about 400 million metric tons in just 10 years from now. Okay? However, feeding habits are changing too. There are estimates out there, roughly -- slightly over two kilograms per year per capita. But when you do the math, that adds a lot of food requirement as we go forward. So what are we talking about? In just 10 years from now, we need about one-third more what we produce today. How are we going to get there?

Here’s another snapshot of recent events that happened within two or three years time period. Droughts in Russia; at the same time, flooding in Pakistan; tsunami in Japan, and we crossed 7 billion people. How are all these events related? What brings them together? It’s the food, because it has strong implications on availability, accessibility, distribution, and production of food. Here’s the food security risk index put together by Maplecroft, which is a risk analysis organization out of the U.K. This is from 2010, and it lists the top 10 countries, which may or may not surprise you, in terms of food security risk. But what really got my attention was that much of Africa, Asia, and South America have certain degrees of risk, and the so-called emerging economies, the BRIC nations, have medium to high degree of risk. Right? And so, when we talk about the production aspect of food security going from this point forward, how would we address that? And I think to myself, does precision agriculture hold the key? Could we work together in what we know in an environment where -- resource poor environments -- to translate what we know into methodologies given the resources they have? And I think precision ag could be part of the solution. It’s not the solution, but could be part of the solution.

If you look on our planet, we have 7 billion people. No question about it. But one in that every seven person doesn’t have access to bread, right? What is interesting is that that particular individual, that one person among the seven, their livelihood is tied to agriculture. Right? And there are several other issues, poverty, nutrition, health, and so forth that are very much related when we -- when we must consider global food security. But the aspect that I’m focusing on is agriculture because I believe that agriculture can act as an engine in addressing those. So if we power -- empower agriculture, it moves other things and translate into healthier environments, more production, wealthier society, and have accessibility to food. Right? But at the same time, we must also be cognizant of, which I am, that there are other interlinked factors, such as education or access to health facilities, sanitation, or access to clean water. This picture, some of you may have seen it. It’s coming from India; more than 1.1 billion people. Many of them have to walk miles to have access to clean water. Right? And socio-economic conditions. It’s hard to realize, but there are places on the planet where security may be a bigger concern than food security itself.

So how do we empower agriculture? If you take a broad approach -- in literature you’ll find two main approaches, okay? Number one, better genetics. That was a big driver for the first green revolution. And another one is better management. So I asked myself, “What role could precision agriculture play to address the challenges of global food security?” Could it be better management of inputs: seeds, fertilizers, pesticides? Or better management of finite resources? I alluded to that; water or land, finite. We’re losing every year a significant chunk from our planet. We’re not adding more. Or better management of human capital? It breaks my heart as I travel across different environment that there are farmers even today, that may have access to only one sack of fertilizer. Walking barefoot, bare hands going into the sack and distributing fertilizer until they run out. Putting too many in some places and too little in other places. Could we change this in the 21st century, and how do we do that? Better management of information. I know there are a lot of -- a lot of projects out there that are working on information management. This picture is coming from Vietnam, and the idea is not to show you a farmer, you know, plowing through their field using water buffalo, but look what he’s doing. He’s talking on the cellphone. Right? And so there’s one technology that has reached to millions, or I should say billions, on this planet. It’s cellphone technology. How do we harness that to provide the information so that they can make decisions to make a change in their livelihood?

Okay, so I’m proposing here that precision agriculture can help addressing global food security among haves and have-nots. But there are so many people sitting in this room. What comes to your mind when you think of precision agriculture?

QUESTION:  Drip irrigation.

RAJ KHOSLA:  Okay, drip irrigation. That’s a good answer. What I’ve heard most of the time is: large farming environments, large tractors, complex machinery, technology. In fact, larger technology. I just wanted to show this to you. This planter is 120 foot wide; at only less than three and a half miles per hour it will be planting an acre in less than 30 seconds as it moves. And the hang up is that many of us have portrayed precision agriculture to be this. And so when we talk about using precision agriculture to address global food security, it doesn’t make sense how precision agriculture and global security in lesser, resource poor environments go together. And so when we talk about, or I talk about, precision ag for small scale, that’s another change because we have always associated precision agriculture with large scale farming.

Small-scale farming -- sorry. Small-scale farming. This is an aerial image coming from Hebei province in China, where I have a project, and it shows you a whole number of fields and a whole number of farms. Some of them are one-third of an acre. How do you take what I showed you in the previous few slides and adapt to this kind of environment? Because -- when I shared this idea with several of my other colleagues, they said, “Professor Khosla, variability is the very foundation of precision agriculture, and we don’t see variability being a big concern in small scale environment.” And I asked myself, “Is that really the truth?” So I reached out to several of my colleagues from different countries -- and here’s one example. Here’s a rice yield map. What I showed you is a digital map. It shows you grain yield of rice going from about four tons per hectare to a little over eight tons per hectare or two hundred percent or two x variability, right? What is the size of field here? Any guesses? It’s about one-third of a hectare, and it’s coming from South Korea.

When I saw this yield map several years back, it was clear in my mind that, look, there is variability, tremendous amount of variability. Just what I would see in farms in Colorado, going from 80 bushel to 220 bushel; we can observe that in smaller environment. So I have two projects in China right now I’m involved in. One in Heilongjiang province, and one in Hebei province. And so the first question we had several years back is, how large is the within-field variability? So as we do in Colorado, we got several graduate students, went out with the GPS unit, mapped the field boundary of different farm fields going from one and a half hectare in size to about seven hectares in size, which is -- which would be very large for that environment, and did exactly what my students would do right here. Right? And then we went out and took several sensor readings. Look, the same sensor that was mounted on the tractor is now being used as handheld. Another one, student right behind is taking measurements. And what we found here -- this is grain yield for a winter wheat -- less than two tons per hectare to more than five tons per hectare. Also with all the hand sampling that we did for plant biomass, we created a nitrogen uptake map, and look at the spatial correlation. Just like what I would expect in a large scale environment, here in our environment, I saw similar results right there in small scale environment in China. In fact, this was the first publication that was published in International Journal of Precision Agriculture that documents for the first time quantifying spatial variability in small-scale environments.

I’m involved with two projects in India. First one is on precision leveling in the northwestern part, and then on capacity building in a southern university of Karnataka. I remember having discussions, about five or six years back, when C.G. centers were proposing including precision leveling as one way of improving undulation on the field. And there was a lot of resistance at that time that, one, it was too expensive, and that farmers cannot operate this. Today there are more than 10,000 units that are available -- accessible to farmers because there’s tremendous amount of undulation. And when you open the floodgates and do the floodings, you have either too much water in some places, or too little water in other places. The study that I was involved with documented, and again, it was published in a journal, showed that with just one intervention, that is precision leveling, grain yields were increased by 16 percent when they cut down water by 50 percent.

We did another demonstration trial with a private partner on a farmer who has two acres of land. We divided two acres into halves. On one there was precision leveling was done. On the other, he did his traditional leveling where three farmers on a wooden plank pulled by a buffalo or an ox and they’re going across the field, trying to level the field versus precision level. And all other operations throughout the growing season were preformed were identical. On the farmer’s field, that particular farmer realized 800 kilos on the one half of the acre where we did it the traditional way, the way he would do it. On the other half, the grain yield went to 2.25 tons.

So there are ways, or baby steps as I call it, on addressing -- in fact, that farmer with additional income and microfinancing, bought a precision leveler and he is providing that as a service.

This study, which is ongoing, was picked up by American Society of Agronomy. They did a cover story last year detailing some of the work that we’ve been involved with there. So needless to say, I firmly believe that precision agriculture can be practiced on most fields, on most farms, and on most places on this planet earth. And I’m not saying all, I’m saying most, right? And to me precision agriculture is about Rs. Okay? So Dr. Pierre Robert who used to be a professor, no more with us, professor at University of Minnesota, originally from Belgium, he gave three Rs: applying input at the right time, in the right amount, and at the right place. That’s what Pierre Robert did, right? Many years later, IPNI proposed the right source. They were talking about fertilizer because International Plant Nutrition Institute is focused highly on the source aspect. But in 2008, I tweaked that and in one of my papers I proposed that it should not be just the right fertilizer or source, it should be the right input, because it could be nutrient, it could be water, labor, money, machinery, or technology. And then as my involvement increased in many other environments around the planet, I added another R: in the right manner. And what we’re trying to do is, we’re trying to manage spatial and temporal variability that happens in all environments. With no exaggeration, I’ve not found a field yet, small or large, on this planet that produces the same amount of grain across the entire field, or produces the same amount of grain every year. There is spatial and temporal variability and I think there are ways that we can manage that. So how you deliver these Rs in your system, in your environment, in your country, within your resources, it’s completely up to you.

I teach three courses at CSU on precision ag and I have not found a handbook that says look, you must use complex and large machinery to do that. So whether you use autopilot systems, what I showed you in the beginning, or you use human labor to accomplish delivery of those five Rs, is completely up to you, right? So here is an example, a very high-tech version of example, a quarter million dollar machine going through the field preparing the field for raised furrow-bed potato planting, right? And here’s the low-tech version, or the right tech version. There were four farmers that were employed previously on this farm that were doing potato planting, and now with less than a $100 intervention. You can see safety is still a big concern there. They’re still barefoot, bare hand, putting the potato seed sprocket at a time, placing the seed at the right depth and the right spacing. Previously they were covering about three acres in a day. Today they’re covering 10, 15 acres in a day. They continue to be employed and use different technique but same principle.

Here’s another high tech version of example: variable rate fertilizer applicator, right, that can go in and out of the field anytime; and here’s the low tech version. So instead of reaching in the sack with your bare hands and spreading the fertilizer, here’s the spinner spreader, just a push type, but the farmer can get tires. A very simple intervention there with a small generator motor and the farmer wearing a metronome on his waist so that it beeps as he walks and he can pace himself. How fast or how slow he needs to walk. Then there’s another farmer right behind him who’s fertilizing on his farm. Those are two different farms. Different technique, same principle.

Here’s a study done by ICRISAT, a CG center, fertilizer microdosing. So in Africa, many of you are familiar with that environment, a farmer may purchase a 20 kilo bag or a 30 kilo bag, whatever he may have access to, and would go ahead and broadcast. And he would stop when he runs out. Right? They said, “Do you have bottle caps?” They said, “Yeah, we do have bottle caps.” They said, “How about instead of randomly distributing fertilizer, you fill it up in the bottle caps and place it right next to each plant?” A lot of labor work. No question about it. But they were trying to prove a point here. So with micro-dosing, and in some cases you can see six grams per plant, which will translate to about 30 kilograms per hectare, here’s the result. Tremendous improvement in productivity.

Here’s a study by one of my colleagues, Michael Hendrick, published last year and it’s in Water Conservation Journal. Communal farmer maize yields are decreasing in Zimbabwe. They’ve gone from a little over a ton to about a half a ton per hectare. And here he emphasized the placement of seed and the timing of seed. And I’ve used this methodology in several places where we use strings to plant them in straight lines and then place them in hills, and then -- just like this. And then the timing, which doesn’t cost you a whole lot but here’s the yield: half a ton if crop was planted in late December versus late November versus early November. Tremendous difference in the right time and the right place. So what is our challenge? Our challenge is that how do we translate, as I mentioned earlier, the advances that have happened in precision ag world into techniques, not necessarily large complex machinery? And we can train and that can be practiced by farmers around the world, irrespective of the scale of farming. And so here is my request to the policy makers, and this is a quotation coming from Science a couple of years back. That rather than providing fish to the hungry, why not we teach how to fish? It’s easy to say, very hard to do. I think there’s an opportunity also for our industry or private partners that there are millions of hectares of land where agriculture is practiced the way we would have done five hundred years back, and there are opportunities for private partners to scale or provide techniques and smaller technologies that can help translate agriculture.

So there is a place in my mind, and I have experience, for precision agriculture in other environments. We need to focus on techniques, we need to focus on concepts, we need to focus on coupling human potential with machines, not technology alone. And all we’re trying to do is provide better management, along with good genetics. I’m not opposed to genetics. With good genetics, to make a difference in production, efficiency, profitability in a sustainable manner.

I have this as my last slide and then I’ll open up the floor for questions. So how many of you agree that communication technology is the fastest growing technology on the planet? How many of you agree? People are still connected. I know some eyes are getting glazed.  [laughter]

It is the fastest growing technology. When was the first cellphone came out, the prototype? Here’s the answer: 1973. It’s the fastest growing technology. Most of you just raised your hand, and so that was in agreement. How many years it took for the first commercial cellphone to come out? Fastest growing technology in the world. Fifteen years. Richard you’re very close. Eleven years. And what was it priced at? $4,000. And some of you will remember about eight or ten years back, you had to pay a fee, $2 per minute on both sides of the phone right? Receiving end and the calling end. And today we know cellphones like this. They’re part of our society and its everywhere, among the haves and have-nots. What’s my proposition? My proposition is that we need this kind of revolution in agriculture, and I strongly believe that precision agriculture holds that promise if we put our creative minds together. Thank you.

Yes. Would you please use the microphone? I have been told to remind you.

QUESTION:  Pretty interesting. The slides you showed of your projects are demonstration projects. Am I correct?

RAJ KHOSLA: [affirmative]

QUESTION:  I’m wondering, how do we get a hold of how much it costs? I mean, that fellow walking down the field with his little handheld spreader, we have to make a calculation of buying that thing and teaching him how to use it and if it’s worth it. How do we get to that step?

RAJ KHOSLA:  Excellent question. If you look at how things have changed in agriculture right here in the U.S. since 1930s, when there was significant investment that happened in agriculture right here, farmers at that time, one, they were not that large and two, they didn’t have enough capital to incorporate those technological innovations that were happening at that time. What happened was inclusion of private industry. They became the service providers where they would ensure that the tractors and the planters and the harvesters were available to the farmer for a fee.

And that’s what I have mentioned to a lot of -- in a lot of my engagement and projects in different countries where I would always ask for private partners to be part of the dialogue. That they must be at the table when we’re talking about this, because they are the ones who are going to help us take us to the next step, before farmers become enough resourceful, just like here; the transition we have seen over the years that they themselves can acquire that implement and continue to farm. So service providership has to be part of the model. No question about that.

Now, some farmers will do it. I remember in one of my visits, I was talking to my counterpart and explaining saying, “Hey, you know, we’re working with about five acres of land. We don’t really need a GPS unit.” And the farmer was standing right next to me who understood part of the English said, “Oh Professor Khosla, what are you saying? What could we not buy?” And I looped him in and I said, “Look, we’re talking about GPS. Here you have five acres of land. We could use any other coordinate system to quantify where the changes are. You don’t really need a GPS system.” His next question was, “How much is it going to cost?” And I told him, “Well, about $4,000,” and my counterpart translated that into local currency. And he said, “Hey. I’m going to talk with four of my neighbors and we’ll make sure, if you’re telling me this is going to make us more productive, we will go and acquire that.” So there are farmers like that.

And as we do with any intervention, we reach out to the progressive ones, not the ones that are at the tail end. Because the others, who are not as open to taking risk, are watching over the shoulder, looking at that farmer, what he or she is doing. If it works, then they will follow the suit. So private industry has to be part of that. Another question over there.

QUESTION:  Yes, that was very interesting. What challenges scare you the most? It seems like climate variability and lack of water would be right at the top. Do your techniques address either one effectively?

RAJ KHOSLA:  This may surprise you. Whenever I have gone into other environments and I’ve talked about these kind of interventions, the number one challenge is capacity. They say, “Look, we don’t have the capacity. This is all good. We don’t know how to do this.” And I agree with them, that before we can talk about any intervention, because I won’t be there for year after year. I will be there for a week or two weeks at a time, but once I walk away, will this be practiced in the way that we envisioned? So capacity is a big challenge. After that, there is so much room for improvement when you look at farming practices in the environments that we’re all talking about. Small-scale, resource-poor environments. That simple interventions have potential for very significant response in terms of productivity. And so if the productivity goes up, you know, more income is coming to the farmer in most cases. And there -- I know there are nutritional concerns and other concerns, but the focus here today is primarily production. So climate concerns are there, environments concerns are there, but they are not upfront right there. Number one is capacity.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Dr. Khosla, for the presentation. My name is Gabriel Liza. I work for the FAO. I have one question. Have you found any difference in adoption of the new technology between men and women? I notice most of your pictures had men using the technology. Are women -- any difference? Let’s stick with that one.

RAJ KHOSLA:  Absolutely. Excellent question. I do know. And this has happened where we’re working on a field and we’re using strings and small wooden pegs where, you know, about eight or ten people were lining up putting seeds down, and then will move the peg to the next location. And even while I’m standing at the edge of the field -- and there were several women workers and several men workers. Even when I was standing at the field, but talking to my colleagues, men workers will slack off, right there. And the women will make sure, “No, we need to go to the next peg and do that.” What’s my point here? You’re absolutely right. We must engage women because they are the ones who are doing a lot of agriculture related work in the small-scale production systems. And they make sure that whatever intervention that we have proposed and they have understood, that it is practiced. Versus what I have found -- and again this is a narrower observation; we shouldn’t be generalizing this -- that men, because you are asking a gender question, don’t necessarily attach to it right away until they see that this will bring them more income. And I don’t find my farmers in Colorado any different. That unless they can translate a new intervention into increasing their bottom line, that they will jump onto that. Versus women workers would do it for other reasons as well.

QUESTION:  Excellent talk.

RAJ KHOSLA:  Thank you, Roger.

QUESTION:  You did a -- what I would call the classical State Department 30,000 foot perspective --

RAJ KHOSLA:  Yes.

QUESTION:  -- and the shortfall in tons of grains. Have you done the back of the envelope calculation also looking at the distribution of yields across South America -- not South America, but Asia and Africa? How low they are from, what, half a ton to a ton?

RAJ KHOSLA:  Correct.

QUESTION:  How much could that shortfall be made up, just -- not dealing with genetic improvement, let’s keep that out of the picture. But just with the precision agriculture, bringing in, along with precision, better management techniques. And I would also put into that better crop rotations and maybe conservation tillage. That everything pulled together; it’s management and not a large-scale intervention. How much could that shortfall be made up?

RAJ KHOSLA:  Excellent question. And although our group may not have done directly the kind of analysis you’re talking about, the CG Centers, the International Rice Research Institute, very active in the Semet[inaudible]. They’re both active in South Asia; can’t speak for Africa. And they have done several projections. What kind of interventions may relate to how much improvement in productivity or addressing that shortfall? All the interventions that you talked about, conservation tillage, or better management, or even better genetics have been scaled in. But the question that came from that part, a lot of that has to do with capacity and adoption and how fast that can translate.

So the numbers are mind-boggling  -- that if we can accomplish on so many million hectares of land the improvement could be tremendous. I’ll give you an example like South Asia, or India in particular, average maize grain yield is only two tons per hectare versus in the U.S. average yield is 10 tons per hectare, or in the proximity of 10 tons per hectare. When several of my farmers are producing 15 to 18 tons per hectare every year. So we know that there is tremendous growth, you know, opportunity right there for them to improve, granted we need to incorporate the agro-climatic conditions and things like that so there’s a lot of modeling that has been done by -- on large scale and small scale, on tactical basis and strategic basis that does show promise of intervening or making these interventions in small scale systems. But there are a number of limiting factors such as education, capacity, adoption, resource, and things like that.

Question right there.

QUESTION:  In your research, have you looked at applying this to tree production for fruits and nuts as well as other crops getting in to non -- you know, cottons, and other things, or palm oil and other big crops?

RAJ KHOSLA:  Okay. Absolutely. Precision horticulture is a big area. In fact, it’s a lot more suitable, at least until about few years back when the commodity price were much lower. I have been involved in a project in Mexico on precision pecan production systems where pecan is a very high cash value crop. Most of that is being produced is exported, and tremendous improvement. I work with -- primarily with nitrogen and water in that environment where placement of water and nitrogen at the right time, right place, right manner was very important. But if you go into California, or if you go into Florida, high value crops, not just trees but also vegetables and others, tremendous amount of potential in application of precision technologies on trees as well as vegetables. Yes.

QUESTION:  Good morning. Thank you for the talk. My name is Mike Simon. I’m with the bread program at NSF. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the program, but we’re interested in smallholder farmers --

RAJ KHOSLA:  Yes.

QUESTION:  -- excuse me -- which could be the size of this room or smaller in terms of the land that’s worked with. So, I guess question A is: how small have you gone in your analyses and particularly not just a single crop but could be dozens of crops on a property, you know, size of land this big? And B, it sounds like a lot of what you’re talking about is not necessarily precision agriculture but just correct agriculture, or maybe best practices as -- you know, as we do in business. So is there a -- it becomes for process -- what do you think is the best mechanism for bringing those best practices to such small farms where it’s less about equipment and automation and more about practice?

RAJ KHOSLA:  Excellent question. By the way, say hello to Nora Lapitan, who’s your program director. Okay. How small have I gone? I’ve gone on farms that are about half an acre in size only 10 rows of maize crop going very long. Okay? Very typical of some of the farms in China. What is interesting is that I usually don’t pick and choose the farms when I’m working with my counterparts. They help us herd some of the progressive farmers whom they consider as early adopters to new interventions. And so not all the time they are the smallest farmers, but I wanted to give you that example. And the reason we work with several one-third acre type farmers in the China project is because there were 47 farmers working together. So we were managing a larger, and that really became a model. Their grain yields have gone up tremendously. They’re all applying fertilizer around the same time, sharing equipment, and so there is some aspect of cooperative agriculture. You’re exactly right. Whether -- some people call it smart agriculture; some people call is intelligent agriculture. And although it does not look like we’re managing spatial and temporal variability, but it’s prepping them to get closer to that. Because as they understand the concept of what this is, we’re one step closer to getting to manage spatial and temporal variability. Did I miss a part of the question?

QUESTION:  Well, to overstay my welcome just a slight it, but is there a suggested -- how do you think we’d get that information out? Do you think there’s a -- is it CG centers? Is it -- do you think its teams from universities? What do you -- in your experience, what do you think is effective on those smaller scale properties?

RAJ KHOSLA:  I would say all the options that you would list -- I would say all of the above. I really think that universities need to be re-engaged in this kind of effort. And I know with the recent call from USAID, it’s, again, reaching out to universities and using what we do best to take it to other environments. We did it for a long while and that’s maybe part of the success for a green revolution, among other factors. But we need to reengage universities because they will breed the next generation of who will become practitioners and crop advisors and consultants and some of them will become farmer in our environment and in other environments also. But yes, I would say all partners.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

RAJ KHOSLA:  Okay.




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