From the boardrooms and research plots of agribusiness companies and the halls of governments, to the tiny farms of the developing world, collaboration is key to making progress toward the goal of feeding a world with a growing population and limited water.
“Some people describe this as a crisis,” said Jeff Raikes, chief executive officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, at this week’s global Water for Food Conference in Lincoln, Nebraska. But it’s also “an opportunity to come together and really work in new ways that will produce … new approaches” to create more sustainable agriculture that uses less water.
Raikes spoke during the second day of the conference, hosted by the Robert B. Daugherty Foundation at the University of Nebraska and the Gates Foundation. He led a panel discussion with representatives of some of the world’s leading agribusinesses, who discussed how private industry, working with governments and producers, is helping address the challenges.
The panel was presented by Global Harvest Initiative. These businesses are moving beyond their traditional purviews — selling seed or agricultural equipment, for example — to broader, systems-based approaches that aim to help even the smallest producers become better managers of their limited land, water and other resources.
One of the panelists, John Soper, vice president of crop genetics research and development at Pioneer Hi-Bred, acknowledged companies have a profit incentive to invest in the developing world, where today’s subsistence farmer could be tomorrow’s customer.
“It is a business opportunity and that’s why we’re interested in doing it,” Soper said. But companies like his also are driven as good corporate citizens to help address the challenges.
“A lot of people assume large companies don’t work with small farmers, and that’s simply not true,” he said. He noted Pioneer already has millions of customers in India and China and welcomes future growth in Africa.