Monsanto technology chief calls for more innovation

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Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, is widely credited with advancing agriculture to save 1 billion lives. While celebrating Borlaug’s legacy last week during a Mexican-based conference, Monsanto Chief Technology Officer and 2013 World Food Prize Laureate Robb Fraley outlined the need for continued innovation to feed a population that is expected to grow by more than 2 billion people by 2050.

Fraley addressed members of the global agriculture community at the Borlaug Summit on Wheat for Food Security, capping a weeklong celebration of what would have been Borlaug’s 100th birthday. Borlaug was instrumental in the development and introduction of new types of wheat crops in Mexico, India, Pakistan and other countries, resulting in dramatic increases in food production that helped to avoid mass famines in the 1960s and 1970s.

While the world still benefits from Borlaug’s work, Fraley noted that demand for staple crops, including wheat, rice and corn, will double between today and 2050, creating a similar global challenge for today’s farmers and researchers.

“As we celebrate Dr. Borlaug’s contributions to agriculture and remember the billion lives he saved, it’s important for us to also keep in mind the next billion lives, and the billion after that,” Fraley said. “We must continue to invest in innovations that will help to safely and sustainably feed our rapidly growing population, even as farmers face growing challenges from climate change.”

Fraley outlined the range of challenges faced by farmers today, including the vast impact of climate change, which is already leading to more volatile weather and drought conditions, changing crop planting zones and increased threats from insects, weeds and disease.

Fraley predicted that future advances in agricultural technology would be realized from a combination of a systems approach that has five distinct technology platforms: breeding, biotechnology, crop protection, biological, and data science. These five platforms will progress and combine to enable farmers to operate more efficiently and farm more sustainably.

Fraley also emphasized the importance of collaboration and communication in meeting the planet’s food security challenges. Ongoing education and dialogue are needed to ensure widespread understanding of modern agriculture and the role of technology in feeding a growing population in a safe and sustainable manner. Fraley noted that Monsanto is proud to support public-private partnerships that help farmers and support improvements in agriculture globally. Some of these collaborative efforts include:

  • Monsanto’s Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program, an initiative launched at the urging of Dr. Borlaug that has supported the research efforts of 64 Ph.D. students from 25 countries, focused on helping developing countries to improve yields of wheat and rice. 
  • Water Efficient Maize for Africa, a partnership dedicated to increasing food security in Sub-Saharan Africa through development and distribution of drought-tolerant and insect-resistant maize seed.
  • Project SHARE, a four-year initiative to provide advanced tools to Indian farmers to help increase yields of corn and cotton.

The Borlaug Summit on Wheat for Food Security summit was held from March 25–28, bringing together more than 700 thought leaders, policymakers and representatives from public and private research and development organizations to celebrate the life of Norman Borlaug and address the future challenges surrounding wheat and other crops. More than 40 of the Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars joined Fraley and other Monsanto representatives at the event, participating in field and lab activities, speeches and panel discussions.

For more information about Norman Borlaug and his contributions to agriculture, visit Borlaug100.org.

Headquartered in Mexico, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) is the global leader in research for development in wheat and maize and wheat- and maize-based farming systems. CIMMYT works throughout the developing world with hundreds of partners to sustainably increase the productivity of maize and wheat systems to improve global food security and livelihoods. More information about CIMMYT is available at http://www.cimmyt.org/ 


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