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Q:
A recent report from the UNITED NATIONS Conference on Trade and Development claims that Monsanto, BASF, Bayer, Cargill, DuPont, Syngenta, and Dow Chemical impede agricultural sustainability and prevent food security through manipulative practices. For example, "Monsanto and its affiliates lobbied Indonesian legislators in the 1990s to support genetically engineered (GE) crops. In 2005, the firm was fined $1.5 million by the United States Department of Justice for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by bribing a senior Indonesian Environment Ministry official." [http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2013/09/24/un-these-7-companies-impede-global-food-security.aspx] How do you respond to these allegations?
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A:Expert Answer

I, too, read the Motley Fool post and was a bit alarmed, to say the least, because I work for one of the large multinationals named in the article, and my wife’s large and extended family includes members in both urban and rural areas of Africa.  I’ve experienced their challenges to produce food and get the next meal on the table, and was surprised to learn, according to this article, that I’m preventing food security. But I’ve also discovered since first reading that Motley Fool’s source was not an official UN endorsed or issued report, as suggested, but rather one article by one author included in a compilation of articles from a variety of contributors called the “Trade and Environment Review, 2013.” According to its own disclaimer, “the views expressed in the articles contained in this Review are the personal views of the authors.”

 

Some of the statements in the Motley Fool article you asked about are correct. The 2002 FAO report was likely correct when stating that there was enough food produced to meet global needs. And there likely is enough arable land available to feed the world. Yet in 2008, and again, during and after the U.S. drought in 2012, we experienced a tenuous and interconnected food supply, when global grain stocks were at historic lows. In coming years, we will be putting incredible pressure on the land, and perhaps more important, the global water resource.

 

The challenge, then, is producing more food, and more nutritious food, where it is most needed and consumed, and in an environmentally sustainable manner. The most populous regions of the world, with projections of continuous population growth, are in environments where low crop yields and yield stagnation are entrenched. Poor soils, low crop water efficiency, high greenhouse gas emissions, and limited access to inputs and markets are the norm.  These are areas of historically high poverty rates and poor nutrition and health – in both rural and urban settings.

 

Investment in agricultural research has been a consistent engine for growth, and through investment in our own business and collaborations with public research organizations, we are developing scale-neutral technology that will benefit large and small-holder farmers alike in Africa and Asia. And many of the “organic agriculture” practices mentioned in the article are not specific to organic production but are part of many sound farming operations. When used in conjunction with other inputs, sustainable intensification of agriculture and resilience of the food supply can be realized. 

 

These are the things that I am working on, in both my private and professional life.  One billion have risen out of severe poverty within the past 20 years, and we aim to continue that momentum. We’ll need help – from public funding for agriculture research, to more productive collaborations, and more science-based rules and regulations for technology innovations. I think we’re making progress. Far from preventing food security, we are making progress towards a more food secure, ecologically resilient world.

Topic: Business Practices, Impact on Environment  2 Comments | Add Comment