It was clear to us already in the beginning of our project that we wanted it to be sustainable and impactful both locally and globally. The best way to evaluate this is by reading about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and interpreting them with respect to our project. The 17 SDGs are a call for action to make the world a better place in a variety of ways (Fig. 1).
Out of the 17 goals we initially believed that our project could address six. These were the SDGs numbered 1, 2, 9, 10, 15 and 17. Especially goal 2, Zero Hunger, spoke to us on a deep level. It is the goal that forms the core of our project, because our main theme is to achieve food security and promote sustainable practices in agriculture. Through this we want to contribute to ending hunger in the world and everything we have done within the project circles around this topic.
Another goal that we immediately connected with was goal 15, Life on Land, which relates to the wellbeing of terrestrial ecosystems. One of our aims with CropFold is to reduce the use of pesticides, which in turn halts biodiversity loss such as the decrease in pollinators. As the human population on Earth still grows, we will need more cultivation areas to cater to it. That is if agriculture can’t be made more efficient. Our target with CropFold is to battle inefficient food production, and in that way promote sustainable use of our limited resources. Enabling better yields from the cultivation areas we already use can furthermore limit deforestation.
Moreover, goal 1, No Poverty, and goal 10, Reduced Inequalities, could be seen to be addressed with CropFold. We believe that improving food security and the efficiency of food production will also aid in ending poverty. Improved yields should lower the price of food, which should decrease food poverty. The proposed implementation of our bioassay is additionally designed to be accessible also in the developing areas where poverty is still widespread. The assay is also developed to be an easy-to-use method for pathogen detection that does not require specialized laboratory equipment or expertise nor storage conditions that are unfeasible to maintain in warmer climates. Therefore, its usage does not differentiate between farmers of wealthier and poorer regions or in remote areas. We also hope the adoption of our system would reduce food inequality as more yields are saved.
We also couldn’t forget about goal 9, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure. For us this ninth SDG is important as we are fostering innovation through wanting to inspire more people around the world to solve problems with innovative solutions. Our project also promotes shaping the agricultural infrastructure towards more modern approaches for dealing with pathogens in sustainable ways.
Lastly, we want to highlight goal 17, Partnerships for the Goals. Throughout this entire iGEM season we have actively sought out partners and collaborated with others from different corners of the world to strengthen our project. These partners have become a vital part of our journey and together we have worked hard to enhance the sustainability of our projects.
After our own small investigations regarding the SDGs, we sought to get expert feedback on our ideas and hear their opinion on the sustainability of our project. Our partnership team Tec CEM (read more from our Partnership page) organized a meeting with with Alejandra Rentería, Jr consultant in social responsibility and specialist in corporate volunteering, Ana González Castillo, and Karla Muñoz, a consultant in educational experiences and coordinator of the Itinerant MUSEUM of the SDGs, who are from Kueponi Consultoría, a company that offers consulting in sustainable strategy and responsibility. The aim of the meeting was to discuss the project and the SDGs it addresses in more detail (read more from our Integrated Human Practices page).
We gave a presentation on our project focusing especially on the impact of CropFold as well as proposed what we considered to be relevant SDGs in the manner stated above. The main take home message we received from the discussion that followed our presentation was to look at SDGs being addressed to different extents. Up until this moment we had mainly inspected the individual goals as comprehensive entities and seen whether or not they could properly be addressed in the scope of our project. What we learnt was that we should instead have been viewing them as units that can be split up into parts, subgoals, out of which only some might be relevant to us. This now obvious difference in perspective changed our outlook on the SDGs we had chosen and we were inspired to revisit them once more, this time more thoroughly. This change would also allow us to categorize the SDGs we are addressing into primary and secondary goals based on the impact our project has on them.
With the subgoals in mind, we sought to learn more about all the SDGs that we had already looked at on a previously too superficial level as well as looked at some new ones with an open mind.
We received critical feedback from our experts regarding the SDGs. According to them, goals 2,9 and 15 are the primary priorities regarding our CropFold project. The rest, 1, 10 and 17 are secondary ones. With this insight in mind, we sought more information about the primary priorities.
Goal 2, Zero Hunger, includes ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition in targets 2.1 and 2.2. Target 2.1 highlights the hunger of the poor people as well as the ones with vulnerable situations. Target 2.2 is concentrating on ending all forms of malnutrition, including children under 5 years. More specifically, target 2.2 is aimed for adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women, and older people. We also find the target 2.3 important to double the agriculture productivity. We think that by reducing the food waste, including infected crops, productivity of agriculture would increase. The subgoal 2.3 also includes the doubling of income of small-scale producers. We state that the early detection of plant pathogens could reduce the costs by reducing pesticide use and by increasing productivity. We find this goal 2 to be the ultimate one considering our project.
Goal 9, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, includes sustainable industrialization. According to the UN, industries with higher technology are more resilient in crisis, when compared to lower-tech ones. We are aiming to increase the crisis resiliency of agriculture through this pathogen detection. The research in the field of agriculture supports the target 9.5., by upgrading the technological resources in this field.
Goal 15, Life on Land, states that nearly 90% of the world's deforestation is due to expansion of agriculture and as a part of it, 49,6% is due to cropland expansion. We state that by increasing the detection of plant diseases and thus increasing the efficiency of agriculture, the need for sacrificing new areas for fields might be lower. According to this goal, the preservation of species is utterly important. We state that by early detection of pathogens, the need for excessive pesticide use would decrease and thus alleviate the harmful effects.
In addition to the above mentioned goals, we wanted to think outside the box and find new connections from other SDG goals.
Goal 3, Good Health and Well-being includes target 3.9, which promotes the reduction of the number of deaths and illness from chemicals. Since pesticides can cause health problems to humans (Aktar, Sengupta & Chowdhury, 2019; Connolly, 2013), we argue that our method of plant detection could contribute to enhancing the health of humans.
Goal 12, Responsible Production and Consumption, was after a deeper inspection very relevant for our project. Generally according to the UN, the unsustainable behavior regarding the production and consumption is driving climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. Basically too much food is wasted every day. Although the goal is concentrating the most on what happens after harvesting, before reaching the market and the loss that happens at the consumer level, the sub-targets were important for us. One target, 12.3, promotes to reduce the loss along the production as well. The target also states the importance of chemical management and their harms when released to air, water and soil. We hope that the detection of pathogens would decrease the use of pesticides and thus the amount of released chemicals.
Although we find CropFold promoting general welfare across the world, we were wondering about the distribution of the final product. We have designed the product to be easy to use and hopefully affordable as well as accessible to all farmers. Despite the good intentions, the price of the product might still be too high for some farmers. Even in Finland, according to farmer Petri Riikonen (read more from our Integrated Human Practices page) the price paid for the crop producers by buyers is low. We think that this makes agriculture less profitable and the purchasing of further equipment less likely. We hypothesize that the situation in other countries might be even worse. Furthermore, if the financial situation of the farmer is poor, we think that it might be more cost-efficient for the farmer to purchase pesticides rather than detection equipment. This solution is obviously not beneficial for the environment. This might create an equality gap between the farmers and different countries, which would be against the goal 10, Reduced Inequalities. Thus, in the future it would be crucial to ensure easy and affordable access to plant pathogen detection methods. For future teams, we hope to leave note that the distribution of the product must be evaluated carefully so that no equality gaps would rise.
The inequality circles to the goal 4, Quality Education. The use of plant pathogen detection requires knowledge of the detection system. It is not given that everyone is familiar with the concept of detection. In addition, it is not obvious to have access to materials that introduce these possibilities in the field of agriculture. Thus, the usage of detection methods requires more equal opportunities for education as well. If education is not supported in developing countries, we state that it would create an even deeper gap between the developed and developing countries.
All in all, we were surprised and happy about how our project CropFold aligns with the Sustainable Development goals of the United Nations. For every matter, there are dozens of possible outcomes as well as another dozen perspectives to inspect. Our initial SDG goals were 1, 2, 9, 10, 15, 17. After revision, we divided the goals into primary ones, including 2, 9 and 15, and secondary ones 1, 10 and 17. Also new ones were added; goals 3 and 12. However there might be some negative effects towards goals 4 and 10.
We really wanted to pick a topic that aims for great impact across the world. After discussing with farmers and professionals about our project and with experts about the SGDs, we really believe that the implementation of CropFold would have large scale benefits for the environment, and all living beings.