By Tom Daschle

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Last month, President Obama delivered his State of the Union Address to a new Congress arriving fresh from an historic election that reset the balance of power in Washington. Unlike the political makeup of those sitting before him, the challenges facing President Obama and the 112th Congress are far from new: an economy struggling to recover, high unemployment, and a dire fiscal situation. Internationally, we continue to face security threats from terrorists, environmental degradation from carbon emissions, and political instability throughout some of the globe’s most volatile regions.

There is no one silver bullet to solving these problems. But, in his speech, the President identified one primary driver for solutions to each of these shared global challenges: innovation. Indeed, American innovation has helped us overcome challenges in the past and is responsible for our economic and technological leadership around the globe today. As President Obama noted, we are a “nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright Brothers; of Google and Facebook.”

One area where innovation is needed most is in facing the challenge of feeding over seven billion by 2011, and an expected nine billion by 2050. To be sure, we have faced similar challenges in the past. From as early as the 1940s with the Green Revolution, solutions such as the development of high-yield seeds and the use of fertilizers and irrigation techniques allowed countries, such as the U.S., to go from a wheat importer to self-sufficient to then an exporter of wheat. And for other countries, such as India and China, technologies developed during the Green Revolution increased the production of rice and other food varieties.

While the Green Revolution is not without its share of criticisms, it was certainly a time that changed the agricultural industry on a global basis. It was also a time when various non-profit and government agencies came together to fund increased research in Green Revolution technologies. This time, however, the public sector will not be able to find the necessary innovation on its own. We must find ways to foster private-public partnerships that will work together in advancing innovative solutions.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has already taken the lead in this regard. AGRA, which is chaired by former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi A. Annan, is a dynamic, African-led partnership working across the African continent to help millions of small-scale farmers and their families lift themselves out of poverty and hunger through programs to significantly boost farm productivity and incomes for the poor while safeguarding the environment..

So far, AGRA has already established a number of partnerships and integrated programs in seeds, soils, market access, and innovative finance projects that will benefit local smallholder farmers. Through its Seeds Program, for example, AGRA supports the production of high-yielding seeds and ensures that local farmers have access to such resources to increase their agricultural outputs.

Next month, during a trip to Africa on behalf of DuPont’s Advisory Committee on Agriculture Productivity and Innovation for the 21st Century, we will visit AGRA. The Committee was established by DuPont to examine the best public policy mechanisms to increase global agricultural production and spur agricultural innovation, including steps to be taken by the private sector at large.

During this trip, we will visit Malawi and Kenya to meet with local famers firsthand to better understand how the private sector can truly effect a positive agricultural change in these regions. In addition, we will visit a variety of other organizations to learn how to best foster public-private partnerships, which will be essential to identifying new and innovative technologies, such as improved seeds and farming practices.

Throughout our history, American innovation has pushed us to the forefront of technology and global markets. Last month, President Obama called upon us to jumpstart this engine once again. By harnessing public and private partnerships and investment, we can surely discover the science and policy solutions necessary for feeding the world by 2050.

About the author: Tom Daschle works for the global law firm DLA Piper and is chair of the DuPont Advisory Committee on Agricultural Productivity and Innovation. The former lawmaker was elected to represent the state of South Dakota in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978 and served four terms. In 1986, the Aberdeen, South Dakota native was elected to the U.S. Senate, becoming minority leader in 1994 and also serving on the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. He served as U.S. Senate Majority Leader in 2001-2002.

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