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GHI welcomes Doyle Karr, DuPont Director of Biotechnology Public Policy to the Global Harvest Initiative Board of Directors
This interview was conducted by Dr. Margaret Zeigler, Executive Director of Global Harvest Initiative, on May 10, 2016.
Doyle, tell us a bit about yourself and your role at DuPont. How did you become involved in global agriculture?
I grew up in a big family on a small, diversified farm in Central Illinois. We had corn, beans, pigs, chickens and miscellaneous other livestock. I gathered eggs and helped with my mom’s egg route on Saturday mornings. Milk for the family came from a cow we milked by hand.
My career started in agricultural journalism in Iowa and Illinois. I led global communications for DuPont Pioneer and DuPont Ag & Nutrition for a number of years. In those roles I had the opportunity to lead the development of DuPont’s global food security point of view and initiate The Global Food Security Index, developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
What are some of the biggest obstacles the world faces in meeting the needs of a growing and more dietary diverse population? What do you think needs more focus?
There are so many obstacles – water scarcity, access to credit, knowledge transfer systems, sustained research – that seem daunting. And yet we know that progress is being made on many fronts. New innovations are making agriculture more productive and sustainable for producers of all scales. And there are numerous examples of farmer ingenuity and resilience in the face of climate change and a challenging economic environment. Global Harvest Initiative (GHI) highlights many of these stories in the Global Agricultural Productivity Report® (GAP Report®) and Harvest 2050 blog.
One of the greatest impediments we face as a global food security community is our tendency to focus on our own priority or “pet cause” and expect everyone else to “get on board” with our plan. We certainly need to set priorities and look for the best return on our investment. Still, in order for our investments or innovations to realize their full potential, we need to look at how they fit into the larger picture and be willing to work with partners whose perspectives may differ from our own.
By collaborating effectively across industries, geographies, and disciplines, we can identify and address specific obstacles in an integrated, sustainable way. This kind of dynamic, results-oriented multi-sector engagement will help us attract the best resources – skills, talents, funding – to meet the needs of our growing world.
Can you share a bit about DuPont’s leadership in advancing global food and nutrition security?
DuPont has a long history – including being a founding member of the Global Harvest Initiative – of working to improve food security around the world. There was a step-change in its approach to the challenge in 2012 when DuPont established specific goals to hold itself accountable to making a difference. DuPont food security goals track its contribution to food security in product innovation, engaging and educating youth, and improving rural communities.
Also in 2012, DuPont commissioned The Economist Intelligence Unit to create a global index to uncover the core issues of the food security challenge, country-by-country. The Global Food Security Index is a dynamic and universal benchmarking tool that examines the core issues of food affordability, availability and quality and safety in more than 100 countries.
You can learn about these and other DuPont food security efforts at http://foodsecurity.dupont.com/
GHI emphasizes the importance of sustainable agricultural value chains that conserve natural resources, adapt to climate change and consumer preferences, and improve people’s lives and livelihoods. From your perspective, what is the critical role that the private sector plays to conserve, adapt and improve? How does DuPont help farmers with conservation challenges?
I believe we need to take a “systems approach”, which means understanding how best you can contribute to the end goal and then engaging with others in that system to meet the goal together. Our Drought Research Council is a good illustration of this approach. It is a team of experts in plant breeding, physiology and agronomy from universities and DuPont Pioneer that meets at regular intervals to share ideas and expertise. Together, they are developing a better understanding of farmers’ current and future needs and planning research into genetics and agronomy of crop drought tolerance.
The Drought Research Council calls for priorities in research that can make a significant difference in addressing future global water challenges for crops. Under-studied but vital priorities include gaining a better understanding of the growth and development of plant root systems for water and nutrient uptake and a focus on the plant reproductive stage of development, since this is the stage where plants are most vulnerable to heat and drought stress.
A crucial part of the “system approach” is collaborating with people who will be using the practical technologies and innovations that come from our research. For example, researchers can work with farmers via multi-location field trials to test their solutions in a range of agro-ecological conditions.
How do you plan to advance food security efforts through your role on the board of directors of the Global Harvest Initiative?
I’m very much looking forward to working closer with the Global Harvest Initiative in the coming years. Together with other private sector member companies and the outstanding GHI Consultative Partner organizations, we can strengthen and advance our collective efforts to sustainably meet the demands of a growing world.