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An Interview with Doyle Karr of DuPont, 2017 GHI Board Chair
Doyle Karr, Director of Biotechnology Public Policy at DuPont is serving as Chair of the GHI Board of Directors for 2017.
Doyle, please tell us about yourself and your role at DuPont?
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.
Today I direct global biotechnology public policy for DuPont and enjoy discussing how emerging technologies might help solve some of the challenges described by GHI’s annual GAP Report.
My career started in agricultural journalism in Iowa and Illinois. I led global communications for DuPont Pioneer and DuPont Ag & Nutrition for several 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.
GHI’s 2016 Global Agricultural Productivity Report® (GAP Report®) emphasized the importance of smart regulatory systems to drive private sector innovation and investment and to ensure consumer confidence in new technologies. From your work, what do you see as the relationship between regulatory systems and the development of technologies that will benefit farmers, consumers and the environment?
There is a very important relationship between finding solutions to big (and small) problems and regulatory systems around the world. Regulatory systems are key to giving consumers confidence in the health and safety of an innovation and to help protect natural resources and the environment. They also help promote innovation, entrepreneurship and competitiveness.
That relationship is so important that a functioning regulatory system can be the determining factor as to whether we’ll bring new technology to a market.
As we think about potential solutions to the challenges that the Global Harvest Initiative helps define, it is good to remember the inter-dependencies between farmer and consumer benefits, innovation and regulatory systems. When I meet with stakeholders, including many critical voices, I like to start with a discussion of both the hopes and the fears of an emerging technology and then talk about how we balance the two.
Many people assume that DuPont just works with large commercial farmers, but in fact you have some great programs working with small-scale farmers in places like Africa and Asia. Why is this a priority for DuPont and what are some of the important lessons you are learning from your engagements with these farmers and communities?
DuPont does business in more than 90 countries and serves farmers with large and very small holdings. And we work with many others to help improve food security beyond how our products contribute.
Smallholder farmers are a critical piece of the food security puzzle. They represent the majority of farmers in developing economies and many are not able to grow enough year-round to meet their own needs. Helping smallholder farmers move from subsistence to success is an important component in advancing the food security challenge.
There is a great deal of opportunity to increase yields in many developing countries by helping farmers switch to improved seeds developed with conventional techniques. DuPont is currently supporting projects in places like Ethiopia and Zambia to do just that. We are working with farmers to adopt higher yielding rice varieties in India and the Philippines.
Our experience working in developing countries has taught us that while science is universal, solutions are local. Farmers need more than just better products; they need know-how to manage the crop in their unique environment. We have to take a whole system approach. The limiting factor may be a footbridge to help get their crop to market.
DuPont is a founding member of GHI. What is the benefit of having a collective private sector policy on issues of agricultural productivity and sustainability?
We are proud of the work that GHI has done to shine light on what data tells us is our biggest hurdles and share success stories of people who are helping overcome them.
The challenge of sustainably producing food to feed the world is massive and complex. As decisions are made independently by farmers, companies, policy makers and consumers around the globe, it is reassuring that there is one place that is collecting and synthesizing hard data on how well we are prepared to meet a shared goal of feeding the world.
What are your goals as GHI’s board chair this year?
My hope is that I can help GHI do more of what it does so well. How do we get the powerful information that GHI synthesizes into the hands of more people? What new ways for GHI to collaborate with those who are (and those who aren’t yet) working to improve global food security and move us more quickly toward global food security?
I also hope we might use the work of GHI to find common ground with a broader set of stakeholders to break down the barriers to move forward collectively to address the challenges. Time and again, I’ve been energized by meetings with people critical of work we do. We must continue to come together to better understand all points of view if we are going to make a difference. While we’ll agree to differ on many points, there is so much we have in common and so much opportunity to collaborate on solutions to the most critical problems we face.