As Gregory R. Page took the stage at the 2015 Global Food Security Symposium on Thursday, he acknowledged his company’s perspective on the issue from the start.
When it comes to food security, “we ought to appreciate the importance of price and how it influences the behavior of all the participants across the food chain,” said Page, who is the executive chairman of Cargill, the Minnesota-based powerhouse exporter.
“I see a few people smiling,” he noted with a smile himself. “You’d expect Cargill to say that.”
Self-deprecating comments aside, Page’s remarks at the Chicago Council's event did provide a real-world reminder of the factors that affect agricultural markets and producers daily as they seek to feed the world and earn a living.
Here are the four ideas he presented on how to build the world’s food security.
1. Remember that price matters. Farming may be a family tradition, but whether a farm is located Africa or Arkansas, it’s also a business that needs to be financially sustainable. “Farmers in developing countries require adequate prices … to compensate them for their efforts” and investments, Page said. “Without adequate prices, we cannot expect any enduring changes will occur.”
2. Specializing often makes economic sense. “We need to honor the principle of comparative advantage whenever we can,” Page suggested. “If all farmers plant the crops best suited for their growing conditions and then trade with others, food will be produced in the most economic way and the most environmentally sustainable way.” He criticized the concept of countries telling their farmers what to grow, arguing that it makes little agronomic or economic sense. “If China today has a policy of self-sufficiency of soybeans, the food security of every single person on earth would be reduced,” Page said. “The Chinese enjoy an enormous comparative advantage in the production of wheat, rice, and corn—starch crops—and by trading with the Brazilians, Argentines, and others, allowing them to exploit their comparative advantage, all of our security is improved.”
3. Developing, sharing, and adapting best practices helps everyone improve. “Much of the progress we've seen in agriculture in last 50 years is the direct result of the most adventuresome producers adopting an untried practice, perfecting it, and ultimately proving its economic viability and then importantly, helping to disseminate that learning,” Page said, adding: “It only takes one firm—or one farmer—to start an evolution.”
4. Build society’s trust of science and understanding of biotechnology. “We can feed the world without GMOs, but if we think our water is precious, if we think our soil is precious, if we really care about the hydrocarbon footprint of agriculture, we should think very carefully about demonizing genetic engineering,” said Page. “Technology is not just important to producing more in a more sustainable way, but also to our ability to improve human health by enhancing food safety and nutrition, the reduction of waste, and the increase in global agricultural resilience.”
When you hear about global agriculture and food security, what factors do you think are the most important? What do you think is often overlooked in the effort to feed the world? Share your thoughts in the comments below.