Monsanto’s Mark Sutherland sat down with Jerry Steiner, EVP of Sustainability and Corporate Affairs, after the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos, Switzerland. The topic – the New Vision for Agriculture that was announced during the WEF meetings.
Mark: The New Vision for Agriculture, can you explain that? What does that mean? What is it?
Jerry: The New Vision for Agriculture takes on the challenge that we all talk about and hear about a lot–the near doubling of demand that is expected across the next 40 years, the recognition that there will be increasing scarcity of the resources we use to produce food, that 40 percent of the world’s workforce list agriculture as its primary occupation, and that it’s not just farmers that are affected. When supply and demand gets too tight, food prices rise, and that causes other issues geopolitically. The New Vision for Agriculture takes on all those challenges and looks at what can we do to address them. And the New Vision puts the farmer at the center of this–because the farmer actually has to produce this extra food–and it looks at what we, as businesses, as governments, as non-governmental organizations, need to do to enable the farmer to win. Because when the farmer wins, we will all win.
Mark: How does the work at Davos further the vision of the New Vision of Agriculture?
Jerry: First, we have created a lot of awareness across business and across government about the challenges, and that more productive and resource-efficient agriculture is absolutely essential to the solution-for small holders and for large commercial growers. And therefore we need a lot of people around the table to address the challenges.
Second, we’re now getting these discussions going at a local level, in key places where we need to dramatically improve the productivity of agriculture. Projects like Tanzania, where the president himself is the chair of the task force and sits in on the whole meeting. The same thing in Vietnam. The World Economic Forum will also be moving to Indonesia next year, and there’s great engagement there.
We need to continue to build the awareness of this so we get more people pushing all in the same direction.
Mark: Are partnerships important to this?
Jerry: Partnerships are absolutely essential to this, because this is a problem that is bigger than any one organization, whether that be a government or a business. And that’s really the idea in Tanzania or Vietnam or India or Indonesia–that we can get the entire value chain assembled and improve the efficiencies in the marketplace so that people have confidence that when they make the investment, that it will pay off for them in the next step. That’s really what it takes to make a marketplace work, is having confidence in that next step.
Mark: And what about farmers? What’s their role in this? (click on picture)
Mark: What if you’re just an individual, you’re not involved in agriculture, you’re not a farmer, you’re not an NGO, you’re just somebody who’s trying to buy food, trying to make a living, and trying to get the things the family needs? What does this mean to that person?
Jerry: Well, the New Vision for Agriculture is really extremely consumer-centric because they are the end of the chain. They’re either trying to buy food, put it on the table at a price that they can afford and still have money left over to invest in their children’s education or a house or go on vacation, or they’re a citizen and they’re worried about will there be enough water when my children are grown up. So they have a lot at stake, but as individuals, it’s hard for them to drive the system to create these kinds of outcomes. That’s why the New Vision for Agriculture is really about catalyzing leadership.
It’s the recognition that you don’t just push a button and increase the productivity of agriculture or push a button and increase the resource efficiency. It takes lots of people working together and it takes a long period of time. Getting the awareness that we have a very big and pending challenge, but there are solutions if we act today, that’s been job one of this New Vision and that really was our role in Davos this year–to create that level of awareness that it’s a problem, but it also has solutions, but we have to act now.
Mark: What’s next? Where do we go from here?
Jerry: We’ve laid out a vision, we have got action started across this vision, but I think none of us will be satisfied or should be satisfied until this turns into increased productivity, increased resource efficiency and increased welfare for farmers and consumers, in terms of affordable food. We want to make this real. If we look at the two projects that are started, both in Tanzania and in Vietnam, we want to see meaningful progress that we’re really assembling a value chain that has confidence for farmers. We’re going to see an improved marketplace with greater choice for farmers and greater transparency for farmers in the marketplace. That’s what we’re going to see in those two places a year from now if we’re successful and I believe that we will be.
I’m optimistic that we’re going to continue to bring this into the conversation and that this will truly be a new vision for all of agriculture, because there is no single solution. Every project has to be tailored to the environment that it’s dealing with in that country and to the fact that consumers will have different tastes. Small holders, large holders, people who use high technology, even people who want to use organic or other methods, they can all participate in this. We have to give both farmers and consumers choice. That’s what the New Vision is all about.