Hungry for innovation: the challenge of our generation

On the same day, the DuPont Advisory Committee on Agricultural Innovation & Productivity—a committee of experts in agriculture, science, development and economics that I chair—unveiled an analysis of the policies and practices necessary to substantially boost global food production in a sustainable way.

One of the primary challenges to food security identified by the committee was ensuring that farmers have access to the innovation and technology to succeed, as well as having the knowledge and proper practices to deploy those tools and make them most effective.

In practical terms, the best technologies—in seeds, equipment, and methods—must be available for farmers to choose in the marketplace. Farmers know their land, and they know what will make them most successful.

Over the past year, I’ve seen firsthand the potential to solve the issue of food insecurity. Farmers, given the right tools, are indeed up to the challenge of feeding the world.

But a central component to ensuring access to the right tools and technology for farmers, and therefore, a central component to helping the world feed itself, is ensuring that policies and regulations are in place to facilitate new innovative tools that bring science to growers.

Just a few days ago, Pioneer Hi-Bred—a DuPont business—said publicly that the commercial introduction of one of its new innovations for agriculture—herbicide tolerant soybeans that would help fight back against glyphosate-resistant weeds—is being delayed by the actions of its largest competitor, which is preventing regulatory review of the product.

Unlike the pharmaceutical and crop protection industries, there is no current regulatory or legal structure in place to ensure that generic traits, which can improve seeds, can be used to develop newer and better technologies to boost productivity for farmers. The first biotechnology trait is due to come off patent in 2014, with others to follow. That leaves innovators without a proper mechanism to use generic traits to create better seeds for farmers, and consequently, delays innovation and agricultural improvements.

It is certainly not uncommon for science to outpace public policy. But in the case of food security, the stakes are too high. We must ensure that public policy enables and maximizes innovation, and that we have strong, predictable regulatory systems to bring that innovation to the market. That will boost our farmers, grow our agricultural exports, and help to solve the looming challenge of a food supply that falls short of feeding the world.

The demands of feeding ourselves in the future are big and real. It is time to focus our attention and take action so farmers get the choices and technologies they need.

Tom Daschle is a former U.S. Senate Majority Leader from South Dakota and a Senior Policy Advisor at DLA Piper. He currently chairs the DuPont Advisory Committee on Agricultural Innovation and Productivity.

More in Foreign Policy

The US oil export vote: Learning from history and supporting our allies

Read more »