From Brazil to Kenya agriculture proves essential to development

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Nations and governments must recognize that agricultural development is essential to their economic development and security, says Paul Schickler, president of Pioneer Hi-Bred seed company.

“If you look throughout the world, a lot of the issues around food shortages and deficiencies are in areas of conflict,” he told the Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security May 20 in Washington.

“There is no better person I can quote to make this point even stronger than the father of the Green Revolution,” noted scientist, humanitarian, founder of the World Food Prize and 1970 Nobel laureate, Norman Borlaug, who said, ‘You can’t build a peaceful world on empty stomachs and human misery.’”

Illustrating his point, Schickler said in the 1980s Brazil was not open to outside investment and technology imports and had a “very closed approach” to agriculture.

Schickler said his company experienced that “protectionism” firsthand. But then things changed, he said, as Brazil started to welcome international involvement, investment and technology and then took down some of its trade and tariff barriers. Look at what has happened to Brazil in the wake of that decision, he told his audience.

The country has blossomed into a leading world agricultural power in citrus, soybean, coffee, sugar cane, pork and chicken production. “As a result of those investments, now we look to Brazil as a technology leader as well,” he said.

(Schickler, who joined Pioneer Hi-Bred in 1974, was named vice president and director of Latin American operations in 1999, with Africa added in 2002. In October 2003, he was named vice president for international operations.)

Schickler said agricultural development must be looked at holistically. “A company, a nongovernmental organization [NGO], an individual, a government cannot do it by themselves,” he said, and, for that reason, a holistic approach must be adopted if agricultural productivity is to be moved forward.

He said there is also a fundamental need in countries for a strong legal system, property rights, land rights and the ability to use land as collateral for loans, so farmers can get much-needed credit.

Other factors are important as well, he said, like the availability of tools and technology, the sharing of information, roads, storage facilities and access to markets. Education for farmers and strong extension services (help services) for farmers are also essential ingredients in achieving agricultural progress, he said. “You need to have education to train agricultural producers,” he said, “and you need extension services to deploy information throughout the agricultural sector.”

Citing an example of the holistic approach, Schickler said his company went into a banana-producing suburb of Nairobi — which had largely exhausted its ability to produce bananas and was experiencing major insect infestations as well. To address the problem, Schickler said, his company went in with new disease-resistant plants, but did not stop there.

“We also put in place a credit system and an education [system that was built] around agronomic practices, so you could get the most out of the banana plants that were provided. We created a market organization so that we could bring those products to the market in Nairobi and finally we also put in a maize project inside the banana project so that they could learn about other opportunities besides just improving banana production.” Seven years later, he said, that program is still thriving.

Agriculture is very, very local, Schickler said. “You can’t look at solving issues from a distance or providing uniform solutions across differing environments.” Instead, he said, you need to focus on local implementation and the local environment. “That is the nature of our business. When we operate anywhere in the world we use local people, local resources. We also develop products that are specifically tailored for the environment where our customers will use them,” along with the support services necessary for them to prosper.

Schickler said his company recently helped reforest hillsides and rebuild canals on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, where Pioneer operates a seed production facility. That was necessary because the facility had been adversely affected by deforestation, erosion and decreasing water quality. With those repairs done, Pioneer is now back in the seed production business there and contributing to the success of the local community, which is dependent on the local irrigation system and needs the seeds that Pioneer can provide.

Earlier at the same symposium, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah announced the Feed the Future initiative, which will increase the incomes of 40 million people over 10 years and reduce chronic malnourishment. Feed the Future involves the expertise of several U.S. agencies, including USAID, the departments of Agriculture and Treasury, the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the Peace Corps, working in collaboration with a potential 20 “focus countries” in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

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