Fraley: reconnection to agriculture critical

Robert Fraley Image by Ann Millington

Robert Fraley
Photo by Ann Millington

By Shawna Rowe

CIUDAD OBREGON, Mexico – Modern agricultural information is not effectively distributed to all parts of society, Monsanto Co.’s chief technology officer said Thursday.

Robert Fraley, who also is Monsanto’s Executive Vice President and a World Food Prize Laureate, said this lack of communication leads to several problems. He called on scientists to take a more active role in advocating for agriculture.

Throughout his career, Fraley has been working to create innovations and promote policies to help all people gain better access to information about modern agriculture.

“We must make the right decisions in terms of investment and agriculture,” Fraley said in an interview before speaking at the Borlaug Summit on Wheat for Food Security. “Less than 1 percent of people are directly involved in the production of their food in the U.S. We need to reconnect on the importance of advocating for agriculture.”

With policies lagging behind advances in biotechnology, farmers in many nations are prevented from using the necessary tools to produce enough food to feed their populations, he said.

Organizations Fraley termed “fear-mongers” have encouraged nations to prohibit the use of genetically modified foods. This is a problem because it results in malnourishment and further cultivation of previously untouched land, he said. That, in turn, harms the environment.

“We are now on the doorstep of understanding yield enhancements that allow for less land being involved in production,” Fraley said. “If we didn’t continue to innovate, then we would end up plowing out more of the planet. We must use all of our tools effectively.”

Fraley has made strides toward engaging more young people in agriculture. For example, he donated proceeds from his World Food Prize — with matching funds from other personal resources and from Monsanto — to establish the Fraley-Borlaug Scholars Fund at the University of Illinois. This fund aims to increase participation in the plant sciences by women — a group that Fraley believes is currently under-represented.

“In many nations, women are a critical component of agriculture,” he said. “They are the ones working the field, but they are largely under-represented.”

Fraley has dedicated his life to agriculture and says those involved in agriculture have an obligation to advocate for it and educate others.

The growing information disconnect increases the prevalence of uneducated decisions about agriculture, Fraley said. A reconnection to the important role of food production can go a long way in encouraging policy change, he said.

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