In the fall of 1984, while I was in college, BBC correspondent Michael Buerk did a television news report about the Ethiopian famine. A young Irish musician named Bob Geldof saw the report and decided to do something. He assembled popular British rock stars, under the name Band Aid, to record “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” The song raised money for famine relief.
As a young American, I took notice. With every chorus of “Feed… the… World…” the seed was planted deep in my psyche that I wanted to do something to help.
Fast forward to when I attended my first Monsanto Pledge Awards ceremony (now the Sustainable Yield Pledge Awards) five years ago. Until then, my career at Monsanto had been focused on being the best protein biochemist. I wasn’t fully aware of Monsanto’s broader efforts to help farmers feed the world.
As I sat and learned about the Pledge Award projects, I realized what we do at Monsanto has the potential to positively transform lives around the world.
Over the following months, I thought a lot about how I could get more directly involved in our efforts to help poor farmers in the developing world. Around that same time, Bono established the One Campaign to give a voice to the poor in Africa. It was at this time that the dormant seed in my psyche sprouted into a passion to help smallholder farmers in Africa.
Now, my friends and co-workers can attest to the fact that I rarely pass up an opportunity to talk about the agricultural situation in Africa.
Right now, East Africa is in the midst of another famine; far worse than the situation in 1984.
The lack of appreciable rains over the past two growing seasons has led to the area’s worst drought in 60 years. As a result, more than 12 million people are facing severe malnutrition or starvation, many of them children. Many of those affected are smallholder farmers and herders from Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Kenya. The third largest city in Kenya is now Dadaab – a refugee camp for those suffering from the famine. Three-quarters of a million people, many of them children, are at risk of death over the next four months.
Monsanto is donating $1 million to help with famine relief in East Africa. Our donation is structured to provide some immediate relief to those most in need, but also to help relief organizations with longer-term solutions, including solutions for water issues. I’m thankful that the company has stepped forward to offer support. And as an employee, I’m proud that the Monsanto Fund will match the funds we donate as well.
A look back at similar near-and longer-term responses to the famine in 1984 shows that these efforts can help mitigate the impacts of the current drought.
Our donation to the Horn of Africa, along with other projects such as Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), is an indication of our commitment to improving the lives of smallholder farmers across the African continent.
It is all a part of our vision for sustainable agriculture—producing more, conserving more, and improving lives. Success in sustainable agriculture by and large will not only be measured on 10,000-acre farms in Iowa. The legacy of sustainable agriculture will include empowering smallholder farmers in the developing world to provide enough food to support their families and communities.
We have accepted a lofty challenge. It’s one that will take time and it will take all of us to help make sure that the people and farmers of Africa will not continue to suffer at the hands of drought and famine.
By Jeffrey Seale
Jeffrey Seale is Team Lead, Cell Sciences & Imaging, for Monsanto.