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October 23, 2013 | By Achim Dobermann

What specific roles can agribusinesses play in leading or supporting transformational changes in agriculture? I would like to offer two suggestions, and perhaps also challenge the industry to step up its efforts.

First, I suggest that that business models in the crop production industry will need to shift towards developing and selling value-added, smart products and services. Leaders in this effort will rely less on selling more raw materials and consuming natural resources and more on selling know-how for a more precise agriculture. This will require new thinking about integrated business solutions that are tailored to local needs in terms of not only providing high-quality inputs at the right time and at affordable cost, but also packaged with a lot more knowledge and information for making the most profitable, most efficient and most sustainable use of such inputs. People and modern information technology need to be at the center of action. Without skilled, knowledgeable, motivated agricultural professionals – farmers, local entrepreneurs, extension workers, scientists, policy makers, and business executives – transformative changes cannot happen.

Second, I believe that the industry could also play a significant role in monitoring the performance of agriculture and food systems. The currently available information – even on basic data such as crop production statistics, use and efficiency of inputs, food losses and waste, or soil quality – is scarce or of poor quality in many countries. If we want to succeed with implementing SAI, we will need a whole new level of gathering data to guide targeting of policies and technologies. We also need better metrics to track the performance of agriculture, its enabling systems and services, and its impact on the environment. We will need better intelligence and evidence for moving in the right direction.

Achim Dobermann is the Director of Rothamsted Research and Co-Chair of SDSN’s Thematic Group on Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems.  Read the full blog post on Farming First.