Forty years from now there will be nine billion people walking this planet. To provide proper nutrition for them, farmers will need to double the current rate of production.

Anticipation of such a burgeoning world population – along with the need to find solutions to ensure an adequate food supply -- drove the 2009 founding of the Global Harvest Initiative (GHI) by Archer Daniels Midland, John Deere, Dupont/Pioneer, and Monsanto. “Consultative partners” of the initiative include Conservation International, International Conservation Caucus Foundation, TransFarm Africa Corridors Network, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund and the Congressional Hunger Center.

GHI has released five policy papers on how various segments of agriculture can address the increasing food needs. Those segments include research, science-based technologies, private sector involvement, development assistance programs and trade.

Recently, Delta Farm Press spoke with Bill Lesher, GHI Executive Director, about the effort. Among his comments:

An overview of GHI…

“Our focus is on sustainably increasing the rate of global agricultural productivity growth to address food security.

“In simple terms, we look at the world and the challenges facing growing enough agricultural output over the next 40 years and have great concerns. That’s because we must double output in a way that is sustainable. In other words, there isn’t that much more land and water and other inputs that can be used. So, we must increase the rate of agricultural productivity growth.

“That’s what we’re about. We’re saying ‘the world faces a serious challenge of meeting (food) needs so people don’t starve.’ But there are a number of ways to help avoid this and improve food security worldwide.”

On specific measures…

“We must increase the rate of productivity growth – what we call ‘the productivity gap.’ (Towards that goal), we have outlined some measures in (five) white papers that we think will help achieve the necessary increases in productivity growth.    

“One of those is research. We feel agricultural research is really underfunded. North American farmers, and those elsewhere, can meet the challenges but they must have some love and attention -- research (provides a good part of that).

“Another (main goal involves) trade. The United States produces enough food, and produces it more efficiently than most other places in the world. We have a competitive advantage. But to solve the world’s problems, we need freer trade.   

“Another (goal involves) new technologies. We can’t meet these demands without embracing new technologies. That means you must have regulatory systems that are certainly based on science. But they must have enough resources to approve new technologies in a timely manner.

“Also, if we’re to help folks around the globe who aren’t nearly as productive as they can be – for example, in Africa – we must streamline, and make more effective, our agriculture development programs to help small stakeholders produce more.

“Lastly, we must have more private sector involvement in this global food security space. The simple fact is that there is not enough money combined in the treasuries of develop and developing countries to meet global food security challenges in a sustainable way.

“Bottom line: we feel that modern production agriculture, such as we have in the United States, can have a big part to play in meeting the challenges of food security and meet them in a sustainable way.”

FTAs and policy papers

Has GHI taken a position on the Free Trade Agreements pending before Congress?

“We have not as a group. I think each of the individual companies probably has.

“We’re at a (beginning) stage. We’ve just … put the last policy paper up on (our) website.”

So, with the policy papers you’ve set a foundation and now you’ll decide how to build from there.

“That’s exactly right. We make no pretense that these five areas are the only things that are important. But from our judgment these are area that agriculture companies know about and we think are some of the more important ones. That doesn’t mean we want to exclude other areas that people think are important.”

On how intensive private sector involvement in research should be…

“The founding four members of GHI spend $10 million per day on research.

“But there are areas of research where the private sector won’t go. Private sector companies won’t do research on things that, ultimately, won’t help them develop products that will be popular in the marketplace.

“There are some basic things that can help everyone in the public domain. An example is genome mapping of various crops. That’s something private companies may not take on themselves. But if it’s done at universities and other research institutions then all scientists around the world can use that to hasten the development of new products and technologies allowing us to produce more food while using less.”

On the best way to double food production in 40 years…

“We have to do all of it (from biotech and conventional plant breeding to irrigation and basic agronomics). We must pursue all of it. Think about it: we must grow more output in the next 40 years than we’ve grown in the last 10,000.

“And think about not only growing that food but also about processing capacity, storage capacity, the marketing capacity it will take to meet the challenges in a sustainable way.

“It isn’t just one thing (to tackle), by any stretch. It’s not just better seed technology. It’s not just irrigation. It’s everything involved.”

Funding research

More on funding of agriculture research…

“There’s no question that publically-funded agriculture research is woefully inadequate. Compare it to funding of the National Institute of Health and the National Science Foundation -- and I’m not saying their research isn’t useful and valuable. But I am saying we’ve shortchanged agriculture research in some areas.

“I know budget pressures tight. However, when you’re looking at the ‘seed corn’ of the agricultural industry, it mustn’t be shortchanged if you’re going to be productive and profitable in the long term.

“As for better coordination – whether among researchers in the United States with those overseas or streamlined agriculture development programs – that can be improved.”

On specific development assistance programs doing well…

“One of them is the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which offers financial assistance to developing countries. Their model is very good. They say ‘we’re not going to give you any money or assistance to develop unless you have good governance, that there are some markets and some infrastructure.’

“They won’t waste taxpayers’ money by putting it in a country that doesn’t have the environment to succeed. We may need to think about increasing that kind of approach and maybe less on others.”  

On GHI’s “consultative partners”…

“We know we don’t have all the answers. And we know to meet the challenges over the next 40 years, we’re faced with doing it in a sustainable way.

“So, we decided to go to some conservation, nutrition and agricultural development groups to hear their views. We don’t agree with them on everything – and they certainly don’t agree with us one everything, either. However, listening to their views has helped us advance the cause of sustainability increasing the rate of global agricultural productivity.

“But you offer a hand, you reach out and try to work together as best we can. They’ve given opinions on some of things we’ve talked about. We took some it and (left) some of it.

“That’s the best approach. When you’re talking about doubling output in a sustainable way … there’s a sort of natural alliance with some of these consultative partners.”

Anything else?

“The fate of our meeting these challenges is, in many ways, with our farmers. I think we have an obligation to help them … by providing some resources in research, trade and a sound regulatory system for approval of new technologies among other areas we’ve discussed.”