March 21, 2017

Guest Commentary – Confronting our Biggest Challenges: Innovation and Collaboration Will Drive Food Security

By Krysta Harden, Vice President of Public Policy and Chief Sustainability Officer, DuPont

Having served for most of my career in the public sector and now with one year of private sector experience at DuPont, I see now, more than ever, the importance of public-private partnerships. I firmly believe we can leverage the leadership and innovation that a company like DuPont wields to establish a responsive and sustainable agriculture industry that helps address our food security challenges.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), feeding the world’s growing population will require a 50 percent increase in total agricultural production by 2050. We believe that when confronted with a challenge of this scale—and urgency—all stakeholders need to work together to create a more sustainable food system that achieves solutions which are:

  • Integrated and holistic: land use, water and energy efficiency, ecosystems and biodiversity are all interrelated and need to be considered holistically in developing solutions.
  • Focused on local impact: solutions must support local communities, enhance livelihoods and assure social and economic value to those connected to the food system.
  • Collaborative: food and agriculture is a system, so we need to take a value network approach. Collaboration among all stakeholders, big and small, is essential if we are to bring sustainable, scalable solutions to the market.
  • Innovative: product, technical, process, and business model innovations will all be required to realize a more sustainable food and agriculture system.

Together, these principles will help us create a more sustainable approach to food production. Innovation is a requirement for us. We must help lead the way. 

We work with NGOs, research institutions, governments, and other agribusinesses in the United States and around the world to create programs and products that will directly support farmers and benefit rural communities.

What do those collaborations look like? They range from global initiatives to developments right here in the United States. I’ll share a few to give you an idea of the programs and results we are experiencing.

CRISPR-Cas Public Private Partnership between DuPont Pioneer & CIMMYT

DuPont Pioneer and the International Maize & Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) agreed to jointly develop improved crops using CRISPR-Cas advanced plant breeding technology for characteristics that address the needs of smallholder farmers around the world.

CRISPR-Cas is an efficient and targeted plant breeding method to develop healthy seeds by using the best native characteristics available within a crop. The first project is applying CRISPR-Cas to address maize lethal necrosis disease in Sub-Saharan Africa. First observed in Kenya in 2011, maize lethal necrosis spread to neighboring countries in less than five years and can dramatically reduce maize production. In Kenya alone, maize lethal necrosis affects nearly a quarter of the total maize production, with annual losses representing approximately $110 million.

India Rice Farm Schools

Agriculture in India is a mainstay of life, but some 70 percent of the population lives below the poverty level, on less than $2 per day. Poorer farmers who can’t afford new seeds for their crops often plant seed saved from prior seasons—which can lead to lower yields—and the cycle continues for another year. Many farmers lack the awareness and benefits of improved seeds and crop management practices.

In a unique collaboration among DuPont Pioneer, DuPont Crop Protection, and the Uttar Pradesh Department of Agriculture, the Rice Farm Schools program was created to increase yields and improve food productivity for about 15 percent of the country’s rice production. The goal is to help farmers understand not only why to make a change, but how to make a change and maintain it. Pioneer has about 3,200 Rice Farm Schools in villages around the country. Each school teaches about 25 farmers, so about 80,000 farmers are receiving hands-on agronomic training. In another program in India, Pioneer has more than 65,000 Provatkas—village leaders that Pioneer trained who in turn help train local farmers on improved agronomic practices. Together, we serve about 3.5 million customers.

Africa Biofortified Sorghum Initiative

Sorghum is an affordable staple food for more than 300 million people in Africa, yet it lacks most essential nutrients. To solve this nutritional challenge, DuPont Pioneer joined the Africa Biofortified Sorghum Initiative, a public-private partnership to develop sorghum seeds with increased pro-vitamin A, zinc, and iron content, and then build the production and distribution capability to get biofortified sorghum to farmers in Africa.

Not only has the level of pro-vitamin A been improved to levels that result in delivery of 100 percent of the daily Vitamin A requirement in children, but the stability of pro-vitamin A during grain storage also has been dramatically improved from an unprotected half-life of two to three weeks to eight to 10 weeks. The Africa Biofortified Sorghum initiative is a groundbreaking innovation and reminds us to never underestimate the role of agricultural innovation in providing measurable outcomes in terms of health and nutrition.

A Tool to Help Define Food Security Risks

Over the last five years, DuPont has been the exclusive sponsor of the Global Food Security Index, developed by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). The Index is a dynamic quantitative and qualitative benchmarking model, constructed from 28 unique indicators, that provides an objective framework for evaluating food security across 113 countries. By sponsoring the creation of a standardized metric around food security, we have empowered users to explore the issues surrounding food security—including the rankings and results—and draw conclusions for policy, business operations and future research.

This year, we are working with the EIU to convene a panel of experts to set a framework for a new category—environmental resources risk management—that incorporates climate change-related risks, resource scarcity metrics, and government-driven risk mitigation practices into the Index. With this improvement, the Index will become an even more useful tool for those working in the food security space.

Solutions must be collaborative—reached in concert with communities, governments, NGOs, and farmers who know the “facts on the ground” and with global businesses who have the specialized expertise or resources to help solve particular problems. In short, collaboration must have no limits, for answers are everywhere. We welcome those conversations and invite people to reach out to us to establish new, robust connections that will have a meaningful impact and make positive change.

DuPont has a long history of collaboration and innovation. We look forward to establishing new partnerships and continuing along a path that will help develop the tools needed to deliver an abundant supply of healthy food to everyone in 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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Big Ideas and Emerging Innovations

Highlighting approaches, technologies, and ideas that have the potential to radically advance global food security.

Big Ideas and Emerging Innovations

Highlighting approaches, technologies, and ideas that have the potential to radically advance global food security.

Big Ideas and Emerging Innovations

Highlighting approaches, technologies, and ideas that have the potential to radically advance global food security.