May 22, 2014

Expert Commentary by Chris Policinski

By Chris Policinski, President and CEO, Land O’Lakes, Inc.

This post is part of a series produced by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, marking the occasion of its fifth Global Food Security Symposium 2014 in Washington, D.C., which will be held on May 22.

Discussions this week about the impact weather volatility and climate change have on global food production provide additional, powerful evidence of the fragile state of our world’s food security. Climate change is yet another component of the mounting challenges that we face in feeding a soaring global population, while natural resources such as water and arable land are becoming increasingly scarce.  As these challenges converge, it is more important than ever that we focus on solutions within our control to increase productivity and sustainability in agriculture.

There is good news in the fact that our industry has demonstrated an impressive capability to dramatically improve productivity. For example, in the past 70 years, farmers in the United States have increased corn production by 650 percent using 13 percent fewer acres of land, with a corresponding decrease in the use of crop inputs and natural resources. These types of productivity gains have been achieved through the adoption of modern business management practices on the farm and application of safe, proven technologies.

As climate change and weather volatility add new challenges, we must redouble efforts to drive new levels of innovation and create next generation technologies that will enable even greater productivity and sustainability gains in the coming years. Promising new frontiers of precision agriculture are enabling farmers to manage their crop inputs, water, and land resources with an unprecedented degree of effectiveness. We now have the capabilities to manage land in inches rather than acres, applying seed, nutrients, water, and other inputs so precisely that we significantly cut waste at all levels of the growing process. This type of productivity enhancement enables farmers to waste less and save more, driving the sustainability that we need for the future.

For example, our WinField operations offer farmers satellite imagery data incorporating 20 years of field and weather conditions, creating insights to guide their production process. This information helps them decide what type of seeds and crops to plant, and enables the use of tools such as GPS auto-steering, variable rate application, and yield mapping. Corresponding services in plant research and analysis include the development of weather resilient crops that can help farmers maintain yields through a wide range of climate conditions.

Our industry’s productivity and sustainability expertise also holds great promise in developing regions of the world, where weather and climate change can have a disproportionate, negative impact on food security.

To tackle these challenges, we’re leading a public-private partnership that is harnessing the power of renewable energy for powering agricultural growth. Our USAID-funded Powering African Agriculture initiative is identifying, commercializing and bringing to scale clean geothermal energy solutions in Kenya for drying crops, heating processing facilities, pasteurizing dairy, and heating greenhouses and fish farms.

We’re also focused on fostering home-grown innovation and closing the gender gap to increase food security. Our USAID-funded Innovations in Gender Equality program is helping Tanzanian female farmers design and scale-up their own solutions to key agricultural constraints, in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s D-Lab. They’ve already developed labor saving innovations to shell groundnuts and maize, extract palm oil, hull rice, and other farming tasks, and they are already thinking about new innovations to explore.

Maintaining global food security in the face of volatile weather and limited natural resources is both an obligation and a critical challenge for our industry. The stakes are high and our direction is clear: we must embrace the tools and expertise we possess to produce more, using fewer resources.

About

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.

Blogroll

1,000 Days Blog, 1,000 Days

Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

Agrilinks Blog

Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

Concern Blogs, Concern Worldwide

Institute Insights, Bread for the World Institute

End Poverty in South Asia, World Bank

Global Development Blog, Center for Global Development

The Global Food Banking Network

Harvest 2050, Global Harvest Initiative

The Hunger and Undernutrition Blog, Humanitas Global Development

International Food Policy Research Institute News, IFPRI

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Blog, CIMMYT

ONE Blog, ONE Campaign

One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America

Preventing Postharvest Loss, ADM Institute

Sense & Sustainability Blog, Sense & Sustainability

WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA

Archive


US Food Aid Reform is Long Overdue

There are rumors that U.S. food aid programs could see major changes in the next budget, including converting some of the Food for Peace program into straight cash grants instead of in-kind food assistance.


Photo of the Week

A One Acre Fund farmer in Nyamasheke District, Rwanda, applies microbuses of fertilizer to her fields as she plants climbing beans.

Agriculture Reflection

When young people are faced with the big question, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” agriculture is usually not an expected response.






Photo of the Week

Farmers load up bags of fertilizer on bicycles at input delivery in Matulo village, Kenya.

Roger Thurow - Outrage and Inspire - Forward Ever

The young man from the farm was looking smart in an olive green suit, salmon tie and cufflinks.  His black shoes were a bit scuffed, but his English was polished.  “We are moving forward,” he said.  “Forward ever, backward never.”


Photo of the Week

One Acre Fund farmers in Chwele District, Kenya attend a training on how to plant millet. They are comparing the length of their fingers as they are told to plant their millet seeds as deep as the second knuckle on their index finger.