Jesus Madrazo, vice president of Corporate Engagement for Monsanto, was recently named chairman of the Board of Directors of Global Harvest Initiative (GHI). GHI is a private-sector voice for productivity growth throughout the agricultural value chain to sustainably meet the demands of a growing world. GHI’s Margaret Zeigler talked to Madrazo about his background and the challenges faced globally in meeting growing food needs sustainably.
Margaret Zeigler: Jesus, we are delighted to have you lead the Global Harvest Initiative Board of Directors in 2014 as our new Board Chairman. How did you come to be involved in global agriculture?
Jesus Madrazo: I grew up in Tabasco State in the south of Mexico, where my parents and grandparents were farmers. I studied law, but I’ve never moved very far from agriculture, as I grew up with a connection through the farm operations of my family members. I was drawn to work at Monsanto in Mexico because of the innovation, research, and science solutions that the company brings to farmers of various operation sizes. I’ve seen how collaborations such as those between Monsanto and CIMMYT (The International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement in Mexico) are benefitting farmers through adoption of quality hybrid maize, training for better farming methods, and access to education and business skill training.
CIMMYT is where Dr. Norman Borlaug, the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, developed the earliest hybrids of wheat and maize that have since been adopted across the world. In India, for example, the impact of Dr. Borlaug’s legacy in improved seeds is creating a virtuous cycle for farmers. With improved seeds, and better farming and business knowledge, farmers’ lives are changing for the better, with more opportunity for their children to escape poverty and hunger. Monsanto is a partner in this work.
Margaret: What are some of the biggest obstacles the world faces in meeting the needs of a growing and more dietary diverse population?
Jesus: We are facing increasing threats from harsh climate—drought, flooding, heat, and pests that will undermine our ability to produce the food needed to feed the future consumer demand. In addition, hundreds of millions of people are moving into the middle classes in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. These consumers will add meat and fruits and vegetables to their diets, and this is both cause for celebration and concern. How we produce the food, feed, fiber and fuel for the next 30 years will be critical for the sustainability of our natural resource base. We need to improve productivity by growing more with less water, land, energy, labor and other inputs, and we need to protect those productivity gains in the post-harvest phase and throughout the entire food and agriculture value chain.
Margaret: Why did you decide to work for Monsanto, and what, in your opinion, are some of Monsanto’s key contributions to improving farmer’s lives and contributing to sustainable food security?
Jesus: I was attracted to the vast number of innovative solutions for farmers that Monsanto offers—from conventional seeds for maize, wheat, soybean and vegetables, all the way up to state-of-the-art biotechnology products that provide a wide range of choice for producers. Farmers are able to grow more and grow better, by increasing yield on the same size plot of land, and reducing their environmental footprint with less water, fertilizer, pesticide and insecticide.
In January this year, Monsanto was recognized in the Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World (Global 100 Index). We are very proud to receive this recognition, and we will continue to strive to provide even more innovation and sustainable products in the coming decades.
Margaret: Can you share a bit about an innovative public-private-partnership at Monsanto targeting productivity improvements for agriculture?
Jesus: One of our most important partnerships, the Water Efficient Maize for Africa project (WEMA ), is a public-private collaboration led by the Kenyan-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and USAID. WEMA also includes CIMMYT and five National Agricultural Research Systems in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa.
Together, we created the program to improve food security and rural livelihood among millions of smallholder maize farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. We are working collaboratively to develop new drought-tolerant and insect pest-protected maize hybrids and we’re providing the technology royalty-free to all seed companies in Africa for distribution to smallholder farmers. The partnership project helps build technical breeding and biotechnology capacity as well as seed systems in Africa. We are in our seventh year and we have a significant milestone that just happened: for the very first time, smallholder farmers in Kenya had access to the first WEMA hybrid (WE1101, which is being sold under the brand name DroughtTEGO™) and the harvest results are very promising.
Margaret: In GHI’s 2013 Global Agricultural Productivity (GAP) Report, we highlighted the importance of developing value chains that conserve the environment and natural resource base, adapt to climate change, price fluctuation, and consumer needs, and improve people’s lives and livelihoods. From your perspective, why is the private sector voice so important as part of the solution?
Jesus: The Global Harvest Initiative member companies are leaders in the private sector agriculture and food industries. Together, GHI and our allied non-profit consultative partners understand the needs and challenges of farmers, ranchers, agriculture businesses, and conservation and food security organizations. We share a common commitment to increasing agricultural productivity in a way that is both sustainable and reduces hunger and poverty for millions of small scale farmers and producers along the value chain. By partnering together, we contribute a unified voice to drive policy discussions forward.