DES MOINES, Oct.14- Syngenta CEO, Mike Mack, joined the 2011 World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa to discuss the critical questions around agriculture, hunger and food prices in his speech, "Living on the Edge: The New Norm?"
Mack placed emphasis on the continuing upward pressure on food prices, the subsequent threat to political stability in parts of the world, and the vital role of smallholder farmers in boosting agricultural productivity and world prosperity.
“So much depends on a full stomach. If you don’t have that, if people can’t count on having enough food on the table -- if the price of food suddenly becomes beyond their reach – our very recent history tells us that the result can be violent social unrest,” Mack said.
Pointing to this year’s repeat of the 2007-2008 food riots that spread around the globe, Mack warned that continuing upward pressure on prices threatens to make such violence and instability an ever more frequent occurrence. “Will living on the edge become the new norm?” he asked.
Mack shared several examples of riot-stricken countries that share common challenges: their populations spend a large percentage of household income on food which in many cases exposes them to import trade risk, and agricultural productivity is a fraction of what it could be.
“As the world’s appetite grows larger and productivity lags, it’s clear that we must urgently take action,” Mack said. “We have the tools and the know-how. But somehow, it just doesn’t get done. All this begs the question: are we, the global community, even having the right discussion on agriculture? If we were, would we spend our time as we do debating how safe is safe, regulating new technologies down to the right of the decimal point? Life and death issues are begging our attention and if we were serious, we’d be focusing on different discussions. This is particularly so when it comes to sustainably boosting agricultural productivity.”
Mack stressed that raising the productivity of smallholder farms is a critical part of the solution, and that means enabling them to become sustainable, profit-making businesses. He outlined a number of initiatives that take a holistic approach to smallholder farming, providing access to appropriate technology, creating new financing mechanisms to supply capital and manage risk, developing essential infrastructure, and connecting farmers to local and global market opportunities.
“So what’s really standing in our way?” Mack asked. “Ultimately, I believe it will come down to leadership, the kind of leadership exemplified by this year’s award winners. They didn’t settle for the status quo or simply accept conditions they had inherited. They had the courage to make the tough calls, to take the political risks, and to give food security for their people the kind of steady focus and attention the challenge requires. Our world urgently needs more leaders like them.”
The World Food Prize took place in Des Moines this week to recognize the achievements of individuals who have improved the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world. Mack joined the event alongside guests including this year’s winners - John Agyekum Kufuor, former president of Ghana, and Luiz Inácio da Silva, former president of Brazil.
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