May 21, 2013

Commentary - Today’s Challenge Requires Tomorrow’s Leaders

This post is part of a series produced by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, marking the occasion of its annual Global Food Security Symposium in Washington, D.C., which will be held on May 21st. For more information on the symposium, click here. Follow @globalagdev and #globalag on twitter to join the conversation on May 21st.

Paul Schickler, President, DuPont Pioneer

In order to address the complex challenge of global food security outlined at The Chicago Council Global Food Security Symposium today,  we need the enthusiasm of the next generation most of all. DuPont was pleased to support The Council’s first Next Generation delegation that enabled young leaders to participate in the discussion. And it’s critical they do so.

It is a challenge that will need to engage the best minds in IT to food processing, international trade to water and land resources, political reform to culinary sciences. 

During my remarks, I urged the global leaders in the room to consider how they are supporting not today’s leaders, scientists, or farmers – but tomorrow’s. Because the unprecedented task we face depends as much on those outside of agriculture and the next generation as it does on all of us.

This is a problem that desperately requires the focus and attention—and yes, the enthusiasm—of the very best and brightest of the next generations.

My parents' generation put a man on the moon.  My generation put a computer in every pocket. But they are child's play to the challenge of food security.

And, if the challenges we set out sound dauntingly complex, keep in mind the astonishing innovation that has already occurred.  Those who are not farmers are usually unaware—or just dimly aware—of how technologically sophisticated modern farming has become.

Today in North America, Brazil and other areas of the world, some farmers drive machines guided by satellites that can increase efficiencies by precisely planting and weeding and fertilizing and harvesting. A farmer with a smart phone, Internet, and GPS is practicing a profoundly different kind of agriculture than her great grandfather did behind a mule. And someday soon she may be growing crops tailored specifically to the conditions of her own fields and plant them using a joystick and a flat screen while sitting in the comfort of her office. On the other hand, of course, in many regions across the globe we still have smallholder farms planting and harvesting by hand.

How can these completely different realities be meshed in a seamless global system that can feed 9 billion? Can one person make any kind of significant contribution?

Plant scientist, George Washington Carver once said, "When you do common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world."

In 1894, Carver joined Iowa State University’s agriculture school faculty. While there, he befriended the Wallace family. And on a free day, Carver would take their young son, Henry, on nature walks, inspiring in him a lifelong fascination with the botanical classifications of wild flowers and prairie grasses. Henry Wallace grew up to be the Secretary of Agriculture and later, Vice President of the United States. He was also the founder and president of the world's first hybrid corn seed company, Pioneer, the business that I am privileged to lead today.

Consider this – what will you do to inspire the next generation of scientists, farmers or entrepreneurs? Can you make a difference in one person’s life? How about change the world?

You see, when Henry Wallace was the Secretary of Agriculture, he led efforts to start Mexico’s first experimental agricultural research centers to find more productive strains of wheat.

The program hired young Norman Borlaug as the project geneticist and plant pathologist. While in Mexico, Borlaug developed semi-dwarf, high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties and later introduced these varieties to Mexico, Pakistan, and India.  Between 1965 and 1970, wheat yields nearly doubled in Pakistan and India, and Norman Borlaug—at a station dreamed up by Henry Wallace who had been inspired by George Washington Carver—is today credited with saving over one billion lives worldwide from starvation.

By your actions large and small – by the way your enthusiasm sparks the interest of a young professional in agriculture, by the uncommon way you do common things – you can make a real difference in this world.

Today, we helped give some of these young professionals joining this challenge a voice. Listen to their enthusiasm to help solve world hunger. And support them.

Together, we can feed the world.



The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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