By Paul Schickler
Paul E. Schickler is president of DuPont Pioneer. He was named vice president, director, Latin America Operations for Pioneer in 1999, with Africa added in 2002. In October 2003, responsibility for the remaining international businesses was added, and he was named vice president, International Operations. In November 2007, he was named Pioneer president.
This commentary is part of a series organized by The Chicago Council's Global Agricultural Development Initiative and the World Food Prize to examine the relationship between water, agriculture, and food security in the lead up to this year's Borlaug Dialogue.
This week in Iowa, leaders from around the world will come together at the 2012 Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium to debate solutions to ensure global food security. Simultaneously, many Americans will watch as Presidential candidates debate the best path to U.S. economic security. One way we can address both global economic and food security challenges is by presenting young people with entrepreneurial opportunities in agriculture – bringing next gen innovation to the farm and all along the value chain.
At last year’s Borlaug Dialogue, we were inspired by people like Rikin Gandhi of Digital Green, an MIT educated young man who works directly with local, smallholder farmers in India and Sub-Saharan Africa. His tech business supports farmers and created dozens of jobs. This year, I was excited to hear from Ellen Gustafson of FEED Projects, who created a business that feeds children across the globe. Recently Nourishing the Planet produced a list of young persons like Ms. Gustafson who are renovating food production and distribution methods to ensure everyone has nutritious food to eat. Also included on this list is Festus Annor-Frempong, a professor at Cape Coast University, who works to improve agricultural extension services throughout Ghana. These three young leaders took hugely different approaches to food and agricultural development, but their efforts are symbiotic.
The breadth of opportunity for innovation and entrepreneurship in agriculture is unmatched. Beyond its potential as an engine to arouse economies and create jobs, a focus on agriculture will improve food security and alleviate strained food prices, which the United Nations recently announced as at six-month high with potential to climb.
Entrepreneurs, Agriculture is Your Opportunity
First, agriculture must be an attractive career path for young professionals. Thirty years ago, Brazil imported food and today it is among the world’s top grain exporters, along with America, Canada, Australia, Argentina and the European Union. Brazil exemplifies how investment in agriculture creates jobs, empowers young people, improves local food insecurity and builds an economic engine that moves communities toward improved quality of living.
In North America, there are more positions in agronomy, agricultural science and technology than there are candidates to fill them. Unfortunately, this also is the case in other parts of the world. Khan Horne, head of National Australia Bank’s agribusiness, said the agricultural industry in Australia will be the backbone of the economy there for years to come. But on recent trips to Australia and the Middle East, I heard agricultural professionals lament a great shortage of young people in farming. I noticed that even in those parts of the world — as here in the United States — the prominence placed on job growth is in financial services, information technology or electronics.
But the fact is agriculture today presents more opportunities for entrepreneurs than any other industry – and the personal reward of helping to feed the world is great.
Consider this: nearly 100 percent of graduates from agricultural programs at universities like Iowa State University and Illinois State University were offered jobs upon graduation. That should be enticing to job seekers and employers alike. But to sustain global food security, let alone improve it in the coming decades, we need more talented professionals seeking careers in agriculture. Following models like Brazil, countries need to devote shrewd focus to attracting talent and providing agricultural education and resources to farmers. Additionally, we need to consider opportunities for collaboration to support the industry that will improve food security and lead to job growth. The World Food Prize Global Youth Institute is an example of these elements combined. This youth education program promotes agricultural leadership through a public-private collaboration that DuPont Pioneer is proud to support.
Agriculture is a dual solution to economic and food security challenges and it presents just one outcome: by focusing on agriculture now, we will improve the livelihoods and quality of life of billions of people between now and 2050 and beyond. That begins with education that supports entrepreneurial initiatives like FEED and Digital Green; on agronomy programs that lead to jobs; on agriculture’s great significance in the face of a growing population; and on what the industry has already done to build strong communities.
Let’s agree to take the first step by making agriculture attractive to young professionals.