Wednesday, October 12, 2011

World Food Prize Conference - CEO Panel on sustainable agriculture

I am attending the World Food Prize Conference this week in Des Moines, Iowa. Much of tomorrow will be spent on book signings, but today I get to focus on the symposia.

Panel discussion from CEOs (Deere & Co, DuPont, Monsanto, AGRA, and ADM, moderated by WFP President.

1 - How can we feed 9 billion people in a few yhears?
Woertz (ADM): Reduce food waste
Grant (Monsanto): Share private research 
Public-private partnerships
High-tech farming so we use less water and fertilizer

2 - What are the greatest impediments? What does policy need to do?
A1 - What we need most is clarity and stability. Specifying exactly what will be regulated and how up front  improves certainty and planning so is easier to invest. There is more opportunity today and more focus today than at any time.
A2 - All impediments bite more in small countries than in large. We have to invest in Russia because it’s big. “In most markets, the limiting factor is if you have a solid financial system in place.”
A3 – Physical infrastructure slows down ability of firms to get fertilizers and other inputs to farmers and food from farmers to the rest of the market.
A4 – A ton of corn (feed family of 6 for a year) costs $500-600 to deliver to central Malawi as food aid. It costs $50-60 to grow it there instead.
A5 – Work on science regulation because we will need good science to get production up without using poor land. Get science to the market faster, but in an orderly way.
A6 – Policies that address the efficient use of water, particularly in Asia and Africa.
A7 – Ag education and preparing the next generation of farmers.

3 – What about for smallholders specifically?
A1 – The construction of future markets is an “inflection point” for building up capital and investment.
A2 – Markets for smallholders are totally different. Like low-cost 50horsepower tractors, or low-cost GPS. You have to be in that market and figure out how to solve that particular problem. For some things, you need community or cooperative or NGO investment so many farmers can share the investment.
A3 – Zero tillage practice has allowed smallholders to increase their land or reduce their costs and improve productivity.

“Companies cannot do this on their own. To believe that is na├»ve. Governments have shown they can’t do it either. NGOs are closest to the ground. How do we leverage the technology we have today? Governments and NGOs coming together in a collaborative effort.”
All panelists are optimistic about the future, but emphasize its urgency.
“We spend too much time defining the problem. We all give the same speeches.”
“Agriculture is the optimistic science. Malthus was wrong the first time and he’ll be wrong this time too.”

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