With World Food Day on the horizon, hundreds of people gathered in Des Moines, Iowa for the World Food Prize Symposium. Started by Nobel Laureate, Norman Borlaug in 1986, the World Food Prize recognizes individuals for their efforts to increase food production globally through innovation in agriculture. The 2011 symposium, called the “Borlaug Dialogue,” placed focus on “The Next Generation: Confronting the Hunger Challenges of Tomorrow.”
Monsanto chairman, president and CEO Hugh Grant was among the hundreds of leaders consisting of heads of state, farmers, researchers, international agricultural leaders and others participating in the event.
Among other things, Hugh spoke to attendees at the dedication event for the Hall of Laureates, the new home of the World Food Prize in Des Moines. Hugh’s remarks reflect and celebrate a core tenant of Borlaug’s past focus on youth and science in agriculture. While he was at the World Food Prize, Hugh was able to meet with the Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars, a group of young men and women from around the world working to improve rice and wheat through plant breeding. I think it’s folks like these Hugh had in mind in his remarks…folks that will be essential in helping to continue to meet the future needs being placed on agriculture by a hungry and thirsty world.
Hugh talked about a number of things, including stories about meeting and having heard Borlaug talk about the efforts needed to help increase agricultural production, especially in the places where food demand outpaces local food production. Understanding that there are a complex set of challenges that require multi-prong action, Hugh talked about the need for cooperation, which may be uncomfortable at times, but is necessary to get farmers the information and tools needed to meet the challenges ahead.
The video linked above shows a few minutes of highlights from Hugh’s speech talking about the promise of the next generation. He started by talking about Norman Borlaug saying….
For those of us in agriculture, it sounds grandiose but it’s true. This is about a better future. It’s a better future made possible by a humble man who reached out and touched the hearts of many people around the world and he saved a billion lives in the process. So Norm got this all started, got this all started but I’m afraid…. I have to tell you that if he was here tonight, I have a feeling he’d be kind of inpatient. I think that he would be telling us that we’re not moving fast enough. There are a lot of nods in the audience. So we have to build on what he started and we have to move fast.
The world is ready I think. the world’s hungry, its thirsty, thirsty for innovation lessons, soil management lessons, agricultural cultivation systems, for the education, the world is hungry for that next step. So we have made progress but there is so much more to do and we need to be faster at how we do it. You can see the situation if you travel around the world as many of us do. You hear countless stories about hunger of food availability, about the prices of grain…. The world gets it. And since 2008, they have gotten it big time. So somehow, and I know this is going to be tough, somehow we need to talk less about the challenges and do a whole bunch more on finding solutions.
This isn’t a cookie cutter approach. It isn’t going to be one size fits all. Farmers are really smart and if you give them the choices and you give them the range of solutions, they’ll figure it out. It isn’t all bleak. I said today that I’m optimistic and I am. I am optimistic. There is work at hand. Many of the people in this room are doing this work. We’re working on really complex challenges but the reality of this is the next generation is going to carry a great deal of this. The next generation will be a great deal smarter on this. And the more young people I meet who are involved in agriculture, the more people I meet who are now becoming farmers, the more optimistic I become.
All these leaders today and tomorrow realize that there is no single solution in this. To Howard’s point, there is no cookie cutter approach but a common theme I suspect will be how well do we collaborate, how well do we share innovation. It’s going to take both. So we are going to have to do things differently, as awkward and as painful as that might seem to creeky muscles, we are going to have to do things differently. The needs are significant, the status quo will not be enough. We are going to have to move in many areas from competition to collaboration and it will be painful but it is essential. We need to share ideas and apply those learnings. There’s a lot of horsepower in this room. There is a lot of intellectual capacity here. I think if Norm was here, Norm’s question would be “its really great but what more can you do?” So I think my ask as I reach the conclusion of this is what can we do better? What more should we be doing? How can we improve? How can we make progress faster? We are open to that and I would beseech you to also be open to looking at the areas where we can all work together better and improve where we are today.