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Global Development expert, Lystra Antoine of DuPont, joins Global Harvest Initiative Board of Directors
An interview with Lystra Antoine
By Margaret Zeigler, Executive Director, Global Harvest Initiative
Margaret Zeigler: Lystra, we are fortunate to have you join the Global Harvest Initiative Board of Directors in 2014 as our board representative from DuPont. Can you share with us about your path to becoming involved in global agriculture?
Lystra Antoine: As a child growing up in Tobago, West Indies, I remember how my grandparents grew garden vegetables and crops. Agriculture was one of nine subjects I studied for my O Levels (British education system of pre-university qualifications). Afterwards I studied economics, and pursued an MBA from SUNY Buffalo and a Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law Center. I always maintained a fascination with the inter-relationship between economic development and agriculture.
In 1995, I was very fortunate to join the World Bank as a consultant in the operations department of the South Asia region, where I worked at different times on country assistance strategies and on development program lending and implementation in Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and India. Later, I moved to the World Bank Institute where I was able to experience a complementary focus of the World Bank—providing knowledge services, research, and innovation to help countries achieve success through institutional and individual capacity building.
A very special experience during my World Bank tenure was my time as staff at the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) Secretariat and later Fund Office. The CGIAR is a global partnership with 15 international agriculture research centers that focus on research for improving human health and nutrition and reducing poverty. It was here that I witnessed the critical importance of agricultural research for development and how science can play a foundational role to fight hunger and sustainably improve agricultural production for food and personal security (recall the riots of the 2008 food price crisis). Investing in agricultural research and development is one of GHI’s 5 priority policy areas, so bringing my experience from the CGIAR Secretariat at the World Bank and DuPont Pioneer is a natural fit with GHI’s mission and work.
Margaret: What are some of the biggest obstacles the world faces in meeting the needs of a growing and more dietary diverse population?
Lystra: There are a range of challenges our world faces as we move towards the 2050 challenge of feeding the world in a sustainable way. First, there are significant demographic challenges. The population growth rate of some regions is high, and these are regions that already are food insecure, lack infrastructure, and appropriate governance and policies to attract increased investments in agriculture. These regions are likely to face an even higher deficit of food and agriculture products in the next several decades if systems and investments are not put in place now to sustainably improve agriculture production and agri-business.
Related to this is the fact that women comprise 50 to 70 percent of the labor force in the developing world, and yet are the most resource poor farmers, lacking access to finance and capital, lacking legal rights to land, and unable to access training and capacity building to join markets to sell their products. And we are already witnessing the departure of youth from agricultural livelihoods in many parts of the developing world, as they do not view this as a profitable and viable way of life. How can we get tools and training into the hands of these women farmers and the next generation of youth to continue the much-needed smart agriculture production for the expected global demand? And how can we do this in the face of a changing climate, which will make the production challenges even more acute?
A final concern centers upon how we can help improve the nutritional quality and safety of our food supply. It is not enough to provide calories for survival, but we must have more nutritious food for healthy and productive lives. And food has to be transported successfully from where produced to where there are consumption needs. We must find ways to apply science-based solutions to all of these challenges.
Margaret: Why did you decide to work for DuPont, and what, in your opinion, are some of DuPont’s key contributions to improving farmer’s lives and contributing to sustainable food security?
Lystra: In 2012 I observed that DuPont was taking significant steps to hold itself accountable publically for moving on a path to implement greater food security, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve natural resources, and to provide products that improve safety and well-being for consumers. I was very excited to have a chance to become part of a team at a global company that is actively working on specific food security goals and to bring my prior education, skills and experience in international development, agriculture and food security to contribute to solutions. I joined DuPont that year and it was the right time, as the need for collaborative solutions on food security and agriculture became so clear after the food price crisis of 2008-2009.
At DuPont, we believe that science is global but solutions are local, and we have deployed our science to develop local products used in every aspect of life from our food and safety to industrial products. In addition to our science, there are many contributions that DuPont is making to provide focus and leadership for global food security, and a very unique product is the Global Food Security Index, developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2012 and commissioned by DuPont. This index is a powerful, open source and open data product that anyone can use to better understand and analyze the food security dimensions of 109 countries. The index covers food availability, food affordability, nutritional quality and food safety in an interactive format, employs an adjustment factor for food price fluctuations to recalibrate the risks countries face through the course of the year. It helps the public understand some of the main causes of food insecurity, and allows them to determine how changes in the underlying categories of measurement can affect a country’s performance in the future. In 2014, new metrics were added to assess and measure food loss and obesity.
Overall, the DuPont global team is providing science-based solutions to sustainably tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges related to food security, energy and protection of people and the environment. It’s a thrilling opportunity to be part of this team at this time!
Margaret: Can you share a bit about an innovative public-private-partnership at DuPont targeting productivity improvements for agriculture?
Lystra: One of our most exciting and truly beneficial partnerships is the AMSAP (Advanced Maize Seed Adoption Program) in Ethiopia, in conjunction with the Ethiopian Government’s Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and Agriculture Transformation Agency (ATA), plus USAID (US Agency for International Development). The program seeks to improve the maize value chain in Ethiopia, where maize is a significant contributor to economic and social development, providing jobs, income and food. Most smallholder farmers do not have access to high quality seeds, other inputs and agronomic advice that could help them become more productive, especially during the increasing drought settings of rural Ethiopia. And they also do not have good storage systems to store their harvest, thereby losing much of the crop before going to market.
The AMSAP’s goal by 2015 is to help enhance incomes for over 35,000 smallholder maize farmers in 16 districts throughout three regions, and to scale up a network for sustainable seed distribution. By switching from open-pollinated maize seed to improved hybrid seed and using effective farming techniques, participating farmers will be helped to increase their yields by at least 100 percent. We intend to scale-up the AMSAP program and by 2018, AMSAP is expected to reach over 100,000 smallholder farmers!
New seed and grain warehousing facilities will be built at the local levels where farmer dealers can store small amounts of seed, thereby increasing seed availability, and where farmers can store their grain to wait for improved market prices. The improved postharvest grain storage will help to reduce losses by as much as 30 percent. These transformations will improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in the region, helping to transition their farms from subsistence to self-sustaining operations.
DuPont’s contribution as part of the partnership was to bring global science experience and help solve local solutions for maize farmers in Ethiopia. Together, this program is transforming the entire maize value chain, strengthening farmers, and also strengthening the ability of the government to provide extension services for building the capacity of farmers to use the hybrid seeds and move from subsistence agriculture to successful commercial operations.
Margaret: In GHI’s 2013 Global Agricultural Productivity (GAP) Report, we highlighted the importance of developing food and agriculture systems that conserve the environment and natural resource base, adapt to climate change, price fluctuation, and consumer needs, and improve people’s lives and livelihoods. From your perspective, why is the private sector voice so important as part of the solution?
Lystra: Local, regional, and global agriculture private sector are taking part in policy discussions and providing feedback and perspective to governments and policymakers. The Global Harvest Initiative member companies are leaders in the private sector agriculture and food industries. Together, GHI and our allied non-profit consultative partners understand the needs and challenges of farmers, ranchers, agriculture businesses, and conservation and food security issues.
We share a common commitment to increasing agricultural productivity in a way that is both sustainable and reduces hunger and poverty for millions of small scale farmers and producers along the value chain. Through collaboration, we contribute a unified voice to drive policy discussions forward. Involving the private sector helps mobilize new sources of insight and investments to improve agriculture as future demand is rising for food, fiber, feed and fuel.