As the world gears up to feed 9 billion people by 2050, ways to produce more with less are being explored. But a paradigm shift will be required if the industry is to achieve its goals, according to Dr Anna Osann, of AgriSat Iberia S.L.
Dr Anna Osann is an expert in bringing operational applications of space technology into the hands of users in the agriculture sector. She is the co-founder and Innovation Director of AgriSat Iberia S.L. a Spanish SME operating globally, providing tools and services that help the farm sector optimise nutrient and water management by integrating agronomic knowledge with leading-edge technology. As an honorary fellow at Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, Dr Osann has also co-ordinated a series of EU-funded projects (e.g. FATIMA, SIRIUS, PLEIADeS) on sustainable agriculture and water management over the last 15 years. She is currently participating in several H2020 projects in the same area.
With the Summit (https://www.wfasummit.com) only a month away (December 3 – 4 at the NH Grand Hotel, Krasnapolsky, Amsterdam), we discussed some of the key WFA-related themes with Dr. Anna Osann who will be speaking at the WFA Summit.
Dr Anna Osann, what drew you to the agriculture industry?
I’ve always wanted to do something useful for people and planet. Food and agriculture is one of the very basics of human life and my broad skillset (from science-technology to stakeholder community practice) was an asset in this field.
I also have roots in my mother’s line that comes from a farming background.
What inspired you to bring and connect operational applications of space technology into the hands of users in the agriculture sector?
No field of crops is equal to another, there is huge variability within parcels and between parcels and crops are growing at different rates. Space technology, or more specifically Earth Observation satellites provide us with ‘eyes from the sky’ that can monitor and map this variability over time. This opens up the path to advanced precision farming, giving each plant exactly the nutrients and water that it needs, at the right moment. Farmers can access this technology on their mobile phones and become more profitable and environmentally friendly.
What are the main challenges affecting agriculture from your point of view?
A paradox: Farmers are the ones who provide our food, but on the other hand are not held in high respect by society. In the EU, rural areas have lost and are losing population at an accelerated rate. The gap between large industrial farms and small/family farms is widening.
On the other hand, there is a need to feed the growing world population. Ways of sustainable intensification of food production are being explored and will require a paradigm shift in agriculture, less resource-intensive and less contaminating.
What needs to be done to achieve sustainable agriculture? How can we leverage technology and help the farm sector optimise nutrient and water management by integrating agronomic knowledge with leading-edge technology?
Technology is both an entry point and a tool provider for the first steps towards sustainable agriculture. I mean ‘entry point’ as a two-way door, for tech companies into the farming communities and for farmers into the tech world. ‘Tool provider’ in the sense that it helps farmers optimise inputs in the short term (a growing season).
In the long term, we need a paradigm shift, e.g. transform to production systems that regenerate the soil, production systems that offer real (economic, social, environmental) benefits to farmers and the rural environment. This means transcending the current narrative (‘intensive industrial agriculture is needed to feed the 10 billions’), going from ‘sustainable agriculture’ to ‘regenerative agriculture’. At the present state of deterioration of soils, water, environment, we need to regenerate (i.e., make them healthy again) before we can sustain.
In your view, what are the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated industry? Have you seen a lot of change for women in the industry since joining?
In the early years of my career, several decades ago, a woman had to be at least twice as excellent as a man in order to be accepted as a peer. Things have changed a lot, more women have entered the industry, which in turn has led even more women to enter. The playing field is still not level though and the upper ranks are still highly male-dominated. Challenges for women are found in a wide range, from pay-gaps, to (overtly or hidden) sexist workplace cultures, to a lack of flexible hours for childcare, just to name a few.
How can we inspire the future of women and diversity in our industry? How can we improve workplace culture for better employee retention?
Examples of successful women and other minorities are the best way to inspire others.
Employees need to feel respected and honoured for their work, their skills, and for who they are. A controlling environment will repel them, a supportive workplace culture will attract them.
How do you become a successful woman in the farming sector? Where do you think there are opportunities for women in the sector?
Being successful in any sector requires mastering the inner game as well as the outer game. Women have increasingly reached excellence in the outer game (professional expertise, experience, titles), but they still often get stuck in self-sabotaging thought patterns. Continuous personal development work is crucial to reverse that conditioning and to open the path to true success.
There are plenty of opportunities for women everywhere in the sector. More importantly, the sector needs successful women at all levels (up to the top) in order to transform itself for a sustainable future.