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Monsanto commits to help feed hungrier world

Doubling the yields of corn, soybeans and cotton over the next 20 years is only one of Monsanto's objectives to help increase global food production.


June 5, 2008
By deltafarmpress.com

Topics

June 4, 2008

Can the world’s farmers double their yields
of corn, soybeans and cotton over the next 20 years? That might sound like a
rather tall order, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility, according to
officials with Monsanto Company.

In
fact, Monsanto today announced a three-point commitment to help increase global
food production with one of the objectives being to double the yields of those
three crops between now and 2030. It pledged to work in new partnerships with
businesses, citizen groups and governments to meet one of the “greatest
challenges of the 21st Century.

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“Agriculture
intersects the toughest challenges we all face on the planet,” said Hugh Grant,
chairman, president and chief executive officer of Monsanto. “Together, we must
meet the needs for increased food, fiber and energy while protecting the
environment. In short, the world needs to produce more while conserving more.”

The
announcement is an unusual step given the growing food vs. fuel debate that has
been taking place in the national media. But the commitment is critical to help
address the needs of a global population expected to reach 9 billion people by
2050, notes Grant.

“As
an agricultural company focused on increasing crop yields, we will do our
part,” he said. “But it will also require the efforts of a diverse group of
organizations with many points of view to work together and take action to
address the daunting challenges facing us all.”

Monsanto’s
three-point commitment to growing yields sustainably includes:


Develop better seeds —
Monsanto will
double yield in its three core crops of corn, soybeans and cotton by 2030,
compared to a base year of 2000. The company will also establish a $10 million
grant designed to accelerate breakthrough public sector research in wheat and
rice yield.


Conserve resources —
Monsanto will
develop seeds that will reduce by one-third the amount of key resources
required to grow crops by the year 2030. The company will also join with others
to address habitat loss and water quality in agriculturally important areas.


Help improve farmers’ lives —
The
company will help improve the lives of farmers, including an additional 5
million people in resource-poor farm families by 2020.

“We’re
undertaking this initiative after engaging many of our farmer customers,
policymakers, scientists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and experts in
academia and industry. We asked them what agriculture must do to become more
sustainable, and our commitment reflects how we will put their advice into
action,” Grant said.

In
discussing the challenges faced by agriculture, Grant noted that the world
faces significant food price inflation for the first time in decades, driven
largely by the demand for higher-protein diets in such countries as
China and India and energy prices that have quadrupled over the past
five years.

Experts
say it will be necessary to produce as much food between now and 2050 as has
been produced in the last 10,000 years. As agriculture uses 70 percent of the
world’s fresh water and more than half of the habitable land, much of the
production increase must come from increased crop yields.

Concern
over climate change has also increased, with experts noting that the eight
warmest years on record have all occurred in the last decade.

Grant
said the quality of life for the world’s 1 billion farmers is an important part
of this equation. This includes both commercial farmers and the tens of
millions of resource-poor farmers who survive on less than $2 per day.

Grant
said Monsanto spends an average of more than $2 million a day on agricultural
research. Yet he noted that partnerships with others are essential to
developing and delivering approaches to these global challenges.

Examples
of what Monsanto will undertake to achieve its three-point commitment include
the following:

Develop
better seeds

Monsanto’s
research program centers on increasing yields for three key crops used for
food, feed, fiber and fuel — corn, soybeans and cotton. The company’s research pipeline
uses more precise breeding techniques to develop higher-yielding germplasm.
Other technologies result in plant traits that provide better protection
against pests and better weed control.

Monsanto’s
objective under this new commitment is to double yield for these three crops by
2030 in countries where farmers have access to current and anticipated new seed
choices offered by the company.

This
would mean, for example, that corn production in the prominent agricultural
markets of
Argentina, Brazil and the United States would reach a weighted average of 220 bushels per
acre by 2030, compared to 109.1 bushels per acre in 2000. Soybean production in
those countries would rise from a weighted average of 39.5 bushels per acre in
2000 to 79 bushels per acre in 2030. Cotton would increase from 1.4 bales (672
pounds) per acre to 2.8 bales (1,344 pounds) per acre.

Monsanto
will establish a five-year, $10 million grant for rice and wheat research to be
administered by a panel of world experts on food production in developing
countries. Rice and wheat are key crops for food security, but are not a
primary focus for the company. The chairperson of this panel will be named in
the near future. A panel of independent judges will select one project per year
to receive a $2 million grant. Further details on this program will be
developed and announced in the coming months.

Conserve
resources

Monsanto’s
research pipeline includes new corn, soybeans and cotton products that will
result in more production per unit of land, and reduced use of energy,
fertilizer and water per unit produced. Monsanto will track the progress of its
products toward the goal of reducing by one-third the cumulative amount of key
resources like land, water and energy required per unit of output. Monsanto
will also undertake a series of partnerships that will address key
environmental issues associated with agriculture.

Help
improve farmers’ lives

The
third element in Monsanto’s commitment is to improve the lives of farmers,
including smallholder and resource-poor farmers. Part of this commitment is
offering products that increase productivity and reduce the risks of farming,
such as fewer inputs to manage insects, weeds and other yield-robbing stresses.

The
availability of these new commercial products can help. In
India, for example, the use of insect-protected cotton in
2005 increased yields by more than 50 percent and profits to farmers by more
than $250 per hectare, according to third-party studies.

In
special circumstances for resource-poor farmers, Monsanto also is committed to
sharing its expertise in a way that gives them access to modern agricultural
technology.

For
example, one of the first of these projects was announced in March, a
collaboration with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), the
International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and Monsanto to
develop drought-tolerant maize for
Africa that will be
made available to farmers royalty-free.

The
AATF is leading this project in which Monsanto and CIMMYT are donating unique
germplasm and technology expertise. In addition, Monsanto is contributing
breeding tools and the same water-use efficiency genes being developed for
commercial global markets.

The
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation are
providing funding for product testing and development in
Africa.
Government researchers from
Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and South Africa are also playing a key role in this public-private
partnership called Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA).

Among
other partnerships, Monsanto will also work with public institutions to develop
products for non-commercial crops that are important in some world areas,
including cassava, cowpea and papaya.

“These
commitments represent the beginning of a journey that we will expand on and
deepen in the years ahead. We will report on our progress as we engage our
entire organization in this effort,” Grant said.