GLOBAL agribusiness leaders last week sounded the call for additional agricultural research and education from an emerging generation of young leaders to combat the growing challenge of global food security.
In a series of keynote presentations at the International Food & Agribusiness Management Assn. (IFAMA) World Forum & Symposium, executives from two of the world's largest agricultural technology firms discussed strategies to attract, educate and retain the talent necessary to create sustainable food security and economic growth.
"We need a new generation of food visionaries who can see the tremendous opportunity made possible by the simple fact that people have to eat," DuPont executive vice president Jim Borel said in discussing what it will take to meet the food and agriculture needs of a population growing by more than 150,000 people daily. "We must assure that the best minds and brightest thinkers of the next generation are fully engaged in addressing food security locally — from science and technology, transportation and logistics (to) government and regulatory policy."
Borel described food security as one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. Late last year, DuPont launched the Global Food Security Index, a tool developed in conjunction with the Economist Intelligence Unit to measure food affordability, availability, safety and quality on a country-by-country basis (Feedstuffs, Oct. 22, 2012).
Borel said his company is committed to engaging more than 2 million young people in food and agriculture educational opportunities by 2020 as one of its food goals.
According to a key leader from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, such efforts are sorely needed as agriculture has more jobs to fill than qualified candidates to fill them.
Sonny Ramaswamy, director of USDA's National Institute of Food & Agriculture, told IFAMA attendees that as many as 60,000 new workers in the agriculture sector could be needed in the coming years, but colleges of agriculture and food science are only producing some 28,000 graduates annually.
"Between 2010 and 2015, more than 54,000 jobs will be available in agriculture, but only half of them will be filled by candidates with agriculture degrees," Ramaswamy said. He explained that candidates without any background, experience or education in agriculture would fill the other open positions, presenting a major potential knowledge gap for the industry.
Ramaswamy also called for an additional focus on creating "transformative approaches" to solving the riddle of feeding a global population of 9 billion people by 2050, as many as 3 billion of whom will be entering the middle class for the first time. He said agriculture today isn't much different from 1,000 years ago; it's just practiced with advanced tools and technologies.
One company heeding the call to invest in young leaders and researchers is Monsanto, and chief executive officer Hugh Grant used his IFAMA address to announce the company's major commitment to support research in rice and wheat breeding. The additional $3 million pledge to Monsanto's Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program will bring the company's commitment to $13 million and will fund the program through 2016.
"Farmers need the best innovations if they are to help feed, clothe and power our growing world in a sustainable way," Grant said. "Innovations come from the best and brightest minds around the world, and agriculture is a business where innovations are not only needed but essential for the future."
Launched in 2009, the scholars program was named in honor of Hank Beachell and Norman Borlaug, two pre-eminent plant breeders in rice and wheat, respectively, whose research was instrumental in reducing hunger for billions of people around the globe.
To date, the program has supported 52 students from 21 countries. It helps identify outstanding young scientists and supports them with doctoral degree training in advanced plant breeding techniques and at least one season of fieldwork in a developing country.