Chicago Council: Business and Innovation in Agriculture

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ annual symposium, Advancing Food and Nutrition Security at the 2012 G8 Summit, was underway today. Follow the discussion on Twitter with @globalagdev #globalag 

The Chicago Council Symposium outlined important next steps for global agricultural development. (Photo credit: FAO)

The symposium’s afternoon sessions more specifically addressed the roles that business and innovation will be required to play in agricultural development. “[It is] the end of the era of the handout,” said Josette Sheeran, former head of the UN WFP and current Vice-Chairman of the World Economic Forum. “But the era of hand up is also dated and we’re in the era of the handshake.” According to the World Bank, 78 percent of African countries made regulatory reforms that make it easier to conduct business in their country in the past year. Connecting African farmers with partners on all levels of the value chain is key for the future of agricultural growth.

Attracting more youth to the field of agriculture was also heavily discussed. When asked what is the most important thing he’d like to see changed, Berry Marttin, Executive Board member, Rabobank, said, “That farming becomes attractive to young people.” This is an important idea given, that 65 percent of Africans are under the age of 25. Jeff Simmons, President Elanco Animal Health, agreed, saying, “We can’t have people moving away from rural areas with all of the opportunity in the next 50 years, we need to unlock the heart of the next generation—especially those who feel convicted to work in the fight against hunger.”

Michael Mack, CEO of Syngenta AG, emphasized the role that business plays in linking people together through their knowledge and tools. He said, “We have changed the objective from talking about hunger, to talking about productivity and innovation.” This change in objective, he believes, is the best way to meet growing food demand in a manner that’s sustainable, profitable, and uses less land and inputs.

Companies like Monsanto also will play a key role in spurring innovation. Monsanto’s CEO, Hugh Grant, explained that seed breeding needs to take place close to where the market it and therefore Monsanto is beginning to value Research and Development as a community endeavor, sharing technology and building trust. He reiterated that research takes time, saying, “We know a lot more about the soil on Mars than we do about the soil in Africa.”

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton closed the symposium with the keynote address, declaring that agriculture has the best opportunity to solve poverty, and in no better place than Africa. Clinton said that we have the power to reduce hunger worldwide by 150 million if we focus on women farmers, who compose 50 percent of Africa’s agricultural workforce. She applauded President Obama’s food security announcement this morning and closed by saying, “Our goals are very ambitious, it’s not easy, and will take years and even generations to achieve.”

What do you think is most needed in global agricultural development? Let us know in the comments!

To view the livestream of the symposium, click here, and follow Nourishing the Planet’s twitter feed documenting the symposium at @NourishPlanet.

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