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Food for Thought

November 12, 2011
By: Jeanne Bernick, Top Producer Editor
Food for Thought 1
More than 1,400 people from 75 nations recently convened in Des Moines for the annual World Food Prize, the perfect spot for a global discussion of food and agriculture.   

Agribusiness leaders share goals to combat hunger

Farmers wake up every morning, pull on their boots and go about the work of producing crops and livestock. It’s easy to forget that the end result of farming is filling the stomachs of millions of hungry people around the globe.

"American agriculture has been at the heart of the single greatest period of hunger reduction in the history of the human race—everyone who is involved in agriculture should be so proud," said Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize, at the recent summit in Des Moines, Iowa.

More than 1,400 people vested in solving food insecurity came from 75 nations to attend the Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium, a global discussion on food and agriculture that is held in conjunction with the World Food Prize. During the weeklong event, Farm Journal Media listened to the many public comments and conducted several one-on-one interviews with agribusiness leaders to capture their insights on global hunger.

The gathering could not have come at a more pertinent time, as the global statistics on hunger are alarming. More than 925 million people in the world suffer from malnutrition and hunger, predominantly in the Asia and Pacific region and sub-Saharan Africa. In the U.S. alone, 44% of people live at or below the poverty level and can’t afford food for themselves or their families.

"Hunger is an issue I consider an emergency situation," said Pierre Brondeau, president and chief executive of FMC Corporation. "Over 30 countries rely on external assistance for food. Any country that is relying on external assistance to fight hunger is not making room for education or economic growth. They go to the only priority they have, which is fighting hunger. This makes it an emergency issue for many in the world."

Can we end hunger? It’s not a question of whether we can beat hunger but how we can beat hunger, said Marco Ferroni, executive director of the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture. "I’m confident we can do it because I see what is possible on the ground. Our foundation supports projects in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa that work with farmers to improve agronomy. It doesn’t take 10 years to make a difference, it takes only one cropping season with the proper support. What the world needs is access to technology, ag services and markets."

Ferroni noted, however, that ag growth must take place faster than it has in the past 25 years to meet the needs of a growing world population that is also becoming richer and demanding more protein-based foods.

Food for Thought 2
A CEO roundtable kicked off a day of lively discussion. From left: James Borel, DuPont; Samuel Allen, Deere & Company; Hugh Grant, Monsanto; and Patricia Woertz, Archer Daniels Midland.

The Global Harvest Initiative (GHI) recently released its second annual Global Agricultural Productivity Report (GAP Report) showing progress in agricultural productivity worldwide. The report showed increased ag output, but highlighted the immense challenges and deficiencies in areas such as sub-Saharan Africa, where the vast majority of global population growth will occur. In 2010, GHI reported that the global productivity growth rate stood at 1.4% annually and that a 25% increase in the rate of growth was needed to close the gap. This year’s GAP Index shows that growth is increasing at a 1.74% annual rate.

"We have to double food output. That is a compelling charge, especially when we think the world doesn’t have much more arable land," said Samuel Allen, chairman and CEO of Deere & Company. Deere is a founding member of GHI, along with ADM, DuPont and Monsanto Company.

Doubling food output must be done in a sustainable fashion, Allen noted. Deere is attacking that problem at both ends, he said. The company invests $3 million a day to make agriculture equipment more productive and smarter. The company is also focused on small shareholders, helping them mechanize and increase output. In India, for example, Deere has a private–public partnership to help it invest in 520 small tractors and train 1,000 operators in villages.

"No one country, company, government or foundation can meet the global food security challenge alone," said Ellen Kullman, chairman and CEO of DuPont. "We have to work together through public–private collaborations and through a harmonized, science-based regulatory system to ensure farmers and consumers can benefit from new technologies."

Though science provides universal answers, Kullman acknowledges that solutions must be localized due to variations in climate, soils, cultural traditions and transportation infrastructure. "At DuPont, we believe that the challenge of feeding the world will require a continuous stream of science-based innovations," she noted. "And those innovations will have to be precisely tailored to solutions that are local in character."

Remove investment hurdles. Private investment will continue to be key to ag productivity and development around the world, but there are still impediments to investments, said Hugh Grant, president and CEO of Monsanto Company.

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - Mid-November 2011
RELATED TOPICS: Events, News, Magazine Features

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