Public-private partnerships to lead next agricultural revolution
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In the middle of the last century, national governments, philanthropic foundations and bridge organizations, like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), partnered to fuel the Green Revolution, a series of agricultural advancements that supercharged the global breadbasket.

Confronted with broad food shortages and an urgent need for new jobs, public-private partnerships brought together organizations from both sectors to achieve more than they could have on their own. While certain aspects of the Green Revolution are (rightfully) still debated, this period of collaborative innovation is, nonetheless, credited with saving more than a billion people from starvation.

Today, a new round of technical, scientific and policy progress has brought us to the cusp of another agricultural sea change. We are now tasked with building resilient and sustainable agricultural systems that reduce our negative impact to both the planet and to the harm of animals we eat. Overcoming this challenge will require a modern generation of public-private partnerships, capable of scaling innovations to meet global demands.

The Concordia team, which works to build partnerships for social impact, has been fortunate to meet with agricultural innovators from around the world and learn how other countries are leveraging cross-sector collaboration to address this very challenge.

One thing is for certain: innovation is more scalable when the government acts as a resource rather than an obstacle. For example, the Israeli government embraces its entrepreneurs into a strong start-up ecosystem with partnership pipelines geared toward rapid commercialization.

In the United States, our current policy environment will demand more from public-private partnerships than ever before. When President Trump issued his 2018 budget blueprint in March, he cut the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) discretionary budget by 21 percent.

Despite the fact that funding for USDA’s competitive grants program for farmer-focused research will remain level at $350 million, this is still insufficient to generate breakthrough research and development, and selected projects are unlikely to address concerns related to the environment and animal welfare.

While some of the challenges may be difficult to overcome, there are examples of public-private partnerships we can draw from that offer insight into the future of sustainability and animal welfare.

Over the past fifteen years, Purdue — the industry incumbent turned organic, antibiotic-free poultry leader — has worked closely with the USDA to share institutional knowledge of the farming industry, which has led to more efficient and effective protocol measures and standardization procedures.

Purdue has also worked to set an industry standard by inviting ongoing audits from the USDA to confirm farm quality and ensure the practice of humane treatment towards their animals.

Due to the work of Bill Niman, a sustainable rancher who has worked with Perdue, Chipotle and, recently, Blue Apron, many producers are beginning to understand that sustainably raised meat not only tastes better, but, when efficiencies like head-to-tail butchering are put in place, can also be more sustainable and profitable.

This, in turn, has led to an expansion of the distribution of high-quality foods, which now stretch far beyond expensive supermarkets and into new communities who have consistently been underserved.

The next agricultural revolution is important because it will not only be quantitative, but also qualitative. At the 2015 Food Tank Summit, John Fisk, director of the Wallace Center, put it best: “Our food system is evolving, and at the root of evolution is innovation at every stage, from farm to fork.”

From advancements in technology to market access (and demand) to the changing policy landscape: all the necessary pieces are here. But for this qualitative revolution to truly thrive, partnership and collaboration are the only path forward.

Concordia recently launched our Campaign for a Sustainable Global Food Supply in recognition of the immense challenge of feeding a growing population amidst the complexity of our interconnected food system. As the poet and farmer Wendell Berry said: “The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all.Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”

In a complex world with many unknowns, we cannot afford to lose focus on the fundamentality of food. 

Though daunting, these are the challenges where public-private partnerships see immense opportunity. We’re confident that public-private partnerships will help fill critical gaps by delivering better food, happier animals, stronger communities, and a healthier planet in the years to come.

 

Hanne Dalmut is the director of Social Impact at Concordia, a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that enables public-private partnerships to create a more prosperous and sustainable future.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.