Food for Thought

November 12, 2011 04:03 AM
Food for Thought

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.

"The impediments that still exist today, as I look at investment, are long-term," Grant said. Ag policy and regulation architecture need to be consistent for companies to want to invest in agriculture for the long haul.

Jay Vroom, president of CropLife America, a trade association that represents companies that manufacture and distribute crop chemicals for farmers, believes a better regulatory climate is needed in most countries so companies bringing forward new technologies have certainty about regulatory time lines and scientific thresholds they have to meet. It’s critical to allow companies that are investing stakeholder dollars in research and development for a 20-year time frame
to feel certain they will be rewarded in a global marketplace, Vroom said.

"We’d like to think we have a contribution to make," added Mike Mack, Syngenta CEO. "Our company is dedicated to research and development like Norman Borlaug was. We are terribly pleased to be able to bring new technologies to farmers around the world, and in doing so lift the prosperity of these communities. But we need consistent regulatory policies."

The reality is that investment in ag actually helps economies, reminded Patricia Woertz, chairman, CEO and president of Archer Daniels Midland Company. "Many studies show that investment in agriculture helps people grow out of poverty twice as much as investment in other sectors," she said. "Countries need to have stable fiscal regimes and anti-corruption views that help private companies say, ‘This is a good place to invest long-term.’ "

Television Coverage

Hear additional insights
from global agribusiness leaders during special coverage on "AgDay" Television on Nov. 22.

Next generation support. Monsanto’s Grant suggests that more investment be made in youth and the future of agricultural scientists and researchers.

"Agriculture should be a young person’s game," he noted. "Where is the future of aggies coming from, and how do we make ag sexy again?"

Feeding the world starts at home, and there is no better place to foster hunger efforts than with young people, said Dwight Armstrong, CEO of the National FFA Organization. "I grew up in FFA, and we maybe did a food basket at Thanksgiving when I was a kid," Armstrong said. "Today, FFA chapters are much more into service learning in local communities. There is so much opportunity to touch the face of hunger with FFA today."

National FFA recently announced a new grant program, FFA: Food For All, in partnership with Farmers Feeding the World. With matching funding from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the program provides 130-plus grants of up to $2,500 to local FFA chapters to initiate hunger projects.
Educating and developing the next generation of farmers is even more key in developing places such as Africa. That’s why DuPont announced at the symposium that it is committing up to $2 million during the next two years to support the global 4-H network in helping African youth create sustainable livelihoods and improve national food security.

"After walking the fields with many African farmers, I understand the urgent need to engage African youth in agriculture, where pressures of food insecurity are greatest," said DuPont executive vice president James Borel. "The farmer who will feed the world over the coming decades is a young person today. Empowering him to do so is a great responsibility for all of us."

Inspiration to fight hunger. Farmers need to take up the rally cry and talk to their neighbors about the hunger situation, but also about the importance of what they do here at home, Vroom noted. In rural America, there are people who don’t understand how food is grown or how they get a banana in the middle of January, he said.

"I think there is room for everyone in this fight," Quinn said. "The day we come at odds with each other and make issues in food and ag into ideological battles, that’s the day we’ll never achieve that goal. But it hasn’t come to that. The World Food Prize is the place where everyone can come, check their guns at the door and recommit to feeding the world."

Fit Solutions to the Needs

Howard G. Buffett is hooked on technology when it comes to farming. The son of billionaire Warren Buffett farms 14,000 acres of row crops in Illinois, Nebraska and South Africa, and boosts his yields by employing auto-steer, variable-rate seeding, triple-stack corn and the latest fertilizer technology.

Although he’ll never go back to non-GMO seed, Buffett doesn’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all solution to hunger. Buffett, who has traveled to more than 100 countries to support and advance agricultural development with the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, says advanced western technology is not a universal solution for boosting agricultural production around the globe.

Ideally, ag development provides the most appropriate solutions for every level of farmer, Buffett says. "We need to think in a new paradigm," he adds. "It’s not going to happen until credible assessments are taken seriously. We don’t need a green revolution, we need new thinking. We need to be smarter."

Buffett says he thinks global ag development has been failing for 30 years because money and resources have been thrown at hunger instead of tailoring resources to specific needs in specific regions, particularly smallholder farmers in Africa and Asia.

"If we don’t change our approach and provide the appropriate tools and enabling environments for smallholders around the world, we will fail again," Buffett says.

At the conclusion of his remarks, Buffett shared some of his powerful photos with the audience, sparking Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize, to compliment Buffett on having "an eye for photos, a head for agriculture and a heart for humanity." 

What Is the World Food Prize?

Norman Borlaug founded the World Food Prize in 1986 to increase attention to landmark achievements in food and agriculture on a scale equal to the Nobel Prize. Des Moines businessman John Ruan became the sponsor of the prize in 1990 and established its headquarters in Des Moines. The prize recognizes and rewards the work of individuals and organizations in the continuing global fight against hunger.

Since 1987, 35 people have been awarded the World Food Prize. This year’s winners were John Agyekum Kufuor, former president of Ghana, and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, former president of Brazil.

A Hall of Food Fame

Iowans have a long legacy in producing crops and livestock that help feed the world, so it is fitting that Iowa is home to a unique hall of fame celebrating the work of those who battle hunger.
At the World Food Prize this past month, officials unveiled the Norman E. Borlaug Hall of Laureates, which is housed in the remodeled, century-old Des Moines Public Library building in downtown Des Moines. The building includes newly installed artwork, murals and the awards that were won by Borlaug himself.

"It’s a dream come true," said Kenneth Quinn, president of the World Food Prize. "This building is a place where people can come through and learn the stories and know that the work to end hunger is such a high calling."

The World Food Prize was created to honor Borlaug, an Iowa native who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work to feed the hungry around the world, and to continue his legacy by promoting his vision. Borlaug is one of only three Americans to win the Nobel Peace Prize, the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. All three awards are on display in the building.

The Hall of Laureates, a 10-year project, was the vision of Des Moines businessman John Ruan III.

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