Climate change is decimating crops, but open–source technology may have a solution

Pictured: A potato farmer at work in Thailand. Image: PepsiCo.

Climate change threatens not only the environment and our communities, but also global food security. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that a global temperature rise of 1.5°C could cut crop yields by up to 30% in certain regions, pushing an additional 250 million people into food insecurity by 2050. This stark reality underscores the urgency for collaborative, innovative solutions to sustain and enhance our agricultural systems.

It is more important than ever that we deeply understand the pressing threats facing farmers and provide climate-smart agricultural solutions to help them build resilience. Having been born into a dairy farm in Kentucky and worked in agriculture for my entire life, I’ve seen the uncertainty that climate change has brought to farming over the last few decades. Planting that first seed can be like playing the lottery. The odds can be stacked against you, but there are also some “plays” or proven techniques which may improve the chances of success and help build long-term resilience.

Now working for a global food and beverage company, I can see the vital role that companies can also play in helping farmers to build that resilience. Food and beverage companies like PepsiCo have access to deep agricultural expertise, research, innovation and investment. I am inspired by the prospect that the combined knowledge and determination of industry leaders can help build a sustainable food system for generations to come.

Case study: The Climate Resilience Platform

Making research and technology public is one way companies can help support understanding around climate impacts and what is needed to make crops across the world more climate-resilient. PepsiCo has recently rolled out our Climate Resilience Platform, an open-access web-based tool designed to help organisations anticipate and mitigate the impacts of climate change on agriculture and created in partnership with the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

  • How it works: The Climate Resilience Platform uses extensive crop research and climate projections to offer a comprehensive analysis of potential climate impacts on staple crops such as corn and oats in specific geographies across the globe. The tool also shows the alternative impact on crops when mitigating actions are undertaken and provides recommendations of the types of regenerative practices which can help build resilience and restore growing conditions.
  • Impact to date: Initially developed for Thailand and Vietnam, through the first development, we learned that to create climate resilience we needed to focus on the whole farm and rotation, not just specific crops. Working with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), we identified specific practices to help farmers in Southeast Asia adapt to the local climate changes across potato, corn and rice rotations. We then trialed these new practices including better water management, more effective chemical application and healthier soil treatment on demonstration farms in the region. Over two years, these regenerative practices led to significant increases in crop yields, notably rice, and boosted farmers’ incomes by 32%, while also cutting down greenhouse gas emissions and improving soil quality.
  • Our open-source approach: We believe transformation of the food system can only come from collaborative action, which must start from a joint understanding of the risks to our farming systems. Therefore, we recognised that the information was too important to keep to ourselves and so with co-funding from the Foundation of Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), we made it public so anyone could access.

While similar tools do exist, they usually come with large consultancy fees which can be prohibitive. Both PepsiCo and the FFAR have a joint belief in increasing publicly-available agriculture research which is essential to bring scientific rigour to regenerative agriculture. By sharing the benefit of our research, we hope others can move through the assessment phase faster and focus funding on actions to mitigate impacts. We have also linked the platform to our database of agricultural best practices so we can share the knowledge of which practices can work best when facing specific climate conditions.

The public tool currently covers nine crops – canola, corn, oats, soybean, sugar beet, sugarcane, sunflower, wheat, and grapes. However, PepsiCo is looking for partners to fund the public deployment of data on cocoa, coffee, tea, and rice.

We look to continue investing in publicly-available solutions like this to help create a more resilient food system. Given the scale of our agricultural footprint, we recognise our opportunity to support the farming community in adapting to climate change. The Climate Resilience Platform is a pivotal part of our strategy to help foster resilience and sustainability within agriculture. The tool joins our existing endeavors to democratise access to critical sustainability resources including our Water Stewardship Specialization training program, Positive Agriculture Playbook, Regenerative Agriculture practice bank, and Oat Growth Guide which are all part of our intention to sharing expertise and promoting sustainable practices across the industry.

Championing climate resilience

The battle against climate change and its impact on food security requires a united front. By making essential tools and knowledge freely available, we can collectively empower farmers, policymakers, and organisations to take proactive steps towards a more resilient agricultural future. We believe that by fostering collaboration and innovating solutions that we can help secure our food system for generations to come.

As we continue to develop and share resources like the Climate Resilience Platform, we invite all stakeholders to join us in this critical mission. Together, we can — and must — build a sustainable future where agriculture thrives despite the challenges posed by a changing climate.

Margaret Henry is VP of sustainable and regenerative agriculture at PepsiCo

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