I had the opportunity to sit in on the Global Farmer Roundtable discussion during the World Food Prize event in Des Moines, Iowa, recently. It really wasn't a surprise that farmers from the sixteen countries represented pretty much share the same challenges – access to land, capital, technology, etc. They also realize they have to have a voice – not only with regard to politics and policy but also with consumers.
Robb Fraley, 2013 World Food Prize Laureate and Monsanto executive vice president and chief technology officer, spent a few minutes with the global farmers and summed it up nicely.
He told the group it was special because the tools of science and technology aren't enough anymore. "All of us have to have dialogue," he states. "It's really important for us to reach out to folks who don't understand farming and food production. You will be good advocates in your own countries to explain agriculture to people who don't understand." He added, "That will be even more important in the future.
"About half of the people in the word today in live in cities and half live in rural areas. By 2050, probably 80% of those living on the planet will live in cities so that disparity of knowledge and familiarity between farming and how food is produced versus the perception is one that I think has a broader responsibility for us all."
Challenges and opportunities
During a question and answer session, when asked about the future role of Africa, Fraley said he is optimistic and bullish on Africa. "But, I'm also a realist. I realize there are challenges such as political and infrastructure. I think of Africa as I did Brazil 30 years ago before it became an agricultural powerhouse. In many ways, Africa has the rich soils and potential for growth like Brazil did 30 years ago."
Fraley said technology such as better seed and better information will be the game changer. Africa has the potential to not only feed itself but others as well. "Thirty years from you Africa will be a thriving ag market."
On the other hand, Fraley sees Europe as a unique challenge. "There are political and economic considerations that have defied the logic of moving forward with modern ag. However, I am encouraged that some of the voices are now stepping up and speaking about the role of new ag innovation , the role of biotech, etc. I'm also encouraged by some of the views I see from eastern European producers who are much more engaged in using a broad suite of technologies to lift their yields. But, ultimately it's going to take a change in philosophy, particularly from the French and Germans to move this forward. There is a lot of imbedded economics blocking that right now -- bad politics driving bad policy.
"The real tragedy is Europe is wealthy and can afford to do what it wants. But if you look at the repercussions of the European philosophy, and what they have had on parts of Africa where they have imported a lot of the skepticism about bio tech and GMOs -- the very countries that need the tech more than most anyone else -- I find it almost offensive."