Building consumer trust in food, farming worldwide

Building consumer trust in food, farming worldwide

Farmers everywhere must dialogue with consumers about agriculture, says Monsanto chief scientist Robb Fraley

Robb Fraley, 2013 World Food Prize Laureate and Monsanto executive vice president and chief technology officer, got a chance to meet with a group of farmers from around the world during last fall's World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa. His message was just as important to a farmer from Mongolia as one from Missouri.

"It's really important for us to reach out to folks who don't understand farming and food production," says Fraley. "You will be good advocates in your own countries to explain agriculture to people who don't understand. That will be even more important in the future."

During his visit with the global farmers Robb Fraley, Monsanto chief technology officer, left, told the group it's important for them to reach out and talk to consumers.

About half the people in the world today live in cities, Fraley notes. By 2050, nearly 80% of those living on the planet will live in cities. "That disparity of knowledge and familiarity between farming and how food is produced, versus the perception, is one that I think has a broader responsibility for us all," he says.

Fraley shared his vision for global agriculture. He's especially optimistic about Africa.

"I think of Africa as I did when I visited Brazil 30 years ago before it became an agricultural powerhouse. In many ways, Africa has the rich soils and potential for growth like Brazil did 30 years ago," he says.

Technology, such as better seed and better information, will be the game changer. Africa has the potential to not only feed itself but others as well. "Thirty years from now Africa will be a thriving ag market," he says.

On the other hand, Fraley sees Europe as a unique challenge.

"There are political and economic considerations that have defied the logic of moving forward with modern ag," he says. "However, I am encouraged that some of the voices are now stepping up and speaking about the role of new ag innovation, the role of biotech, etc. I'm also encouraged by some of the views I see from eastern European producers who are much more engaged in using a broad suite of technologies to lift their yields.

"Ultimately it's going to take a change in philosophy, particularly from the French and Germans, to move this forward. There is a lot of imbedded economics blocking that right now -- bad politics driving bad policy.

"The real tragedy is Europe is wealthy and can afford to do what it wants," Fraley concludes. "But if you look at the repercussions of the European philosophy, and what they have had on parts of Africa where they have imported a lot of the skepticism about biotech and GMOs -- the very countries that need the tech more than most anyone else -- I find it almost offensive."

Holdmeyer is executive editor with Penton Farm Progress

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