On Tuesday, we attended the 9th Annual Forum for the Future of Agriculture (FFA) in Brussels. The FFA addresses key issues relating to food and environment security agendas throughout Europe and the world. This year, key speakers included European Union Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan, Cass Sunstein, Behavioral Economics and Public Policy professor at Harvard, and UN Special Advisor on post-2015 Development Planning, the formidable Amina Mohammed. Whilst the day-long conference raised a number of challenging issues, for us, three issues really stood out.
We are the first generation able to end hunger, the last to be able to avoid the worst impacts of man-made climate change
It’s a pretty startling thought. We have at once a foot on the mountain top, and a foot on the precipice. We know the facts: 11% of the world’s population–many of them subsistence farmers and farming families–faces chronic food insecurity every day. These are also the very same people who are hit hardest by the impacts of climate change. It’s a vicious cycle that is only set to get worse with a rapidly increasing global population. But despite the precarious position that we are in, we also have the power to change it. And at Monsanto, we are confident that we can help make a difference. As that old adage goes “be the change you want to see” and that’s exactly what we’re doing by continuing to invest in research and development, working to support and promote sustainable farming–producing more, better and more affordable food while reducing waste and consumption of scarce natural resources.
Women farmers need more support
In Amina Mohammed’s address, she noted–with some disappointment–that there seemed to be a distinct underrepresentation of females at the forum. Sadly, she was right. According to FAO statistics, female farmers account for 43 % of the agricultural labour force in the developing world. Women are the backbone of many rural economies. Through a number of initiatives, such as the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project, we are committed to promoting, supporting and helping to educate farmers, particularly women farmers. We also practice what we preach when it comes to our workplace; in 2013 Monsanto was named one of the National Association for Female Executives (NAFE) Top 50 Companies for Executive Women.
Any meaningful solution needs to involve smallholder farmers
The third stand-out issue for us was the importance of smallholder farmers. Contrary to popular belief, it is actually smallholder farmers who farm the majority of land in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, around 80% to be more specific. At the conference, the importance of improving the lives of smallholder farmers in Europe and Africa was a recurring theme. This means that governments and businesses need to invest in science, innovative technologies and education in farming. Throughout the day, the reality of the future of farming became clear: smallholder farmers, agricultural and technology companies, policy makers and consumers must all work together to secure the future of agriculture. As Amina Mohammed, UN special Advisor, stated at the conference, “people need to be at the centre.” At Monsanto, people are at the core of our business and we share the belief that working together produces results.