Monsanto's Sustainability Commitment Celebrates Its First Year

By R. Johnson 7/1/2009

It doesn’t seem like a year has passed since Monsanto announced its commitment to sustainable yield. But June 4 marks the day Monsanto declared to the world its pledge to produce more—double yield in key crops, conserve more—reduce farm inputs by one-third per unit produced, and improve farmers’ lives by 2030.

The past year has seen the development of new partnerships, an added crop and even a subtle name change.

“We changed the name of the Sustainable Yield Initiative (SYI) to our commitment to sustainable yield, because we see this as more than just an initiative,” Kevin Eblen, vice president of sustainable yield, said. “I don’t think a year ago any of us thought this would engulf our organization like it has. This isn’t a here-today-gone-tomorrow project—it’s who we are!”

During this past year, Monsanto announced several major collaborations including Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), the Mississippi Watershed Project, Project SHARE, and our work with the Keystone Initiative, and Conservation International (CI).

“We have said from the beginning that we can’t do this alone,” Eblen said. “Partnerships are critical to the success of our commitment because the global issues we’re addressing are very complex—an increasing population, food demand and the availability of natural resources.”

“Our society is anxious to see solutions,” Gabriela Burian, who works on our CI partnership, said. They want to know how we can provide food for everyone, but preserve habitat? Partnerships, such as our venture with CI, demonstrate how we are really committed to creating solutions."

In March, Monsanto also announced our $10 million contribution to establish Monsanto’s Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program, which identifies and supports young scientists interested in improving research and production in rice and wheat—which are considered staple crops in developing countries. This program encourages continued research and interest in both crops.

Monsanto has also turned its attention to spring-planted canola, which has been added to the list of key crops to double by 2030.

“Spring-planted canola is very critical to our Canadian peers and Monsanto’s position in Canada,” Eblen said. “We have a very good grasp on breeding and biotech that will help us to double canola and reduce inputs.”

One of these agricultural inputs is water. In February, Monsanto brought together 500 of agriculture’s major players—producers, ag businesses, industry representatives, policymakers, academics and farmers—for the Sustainability Management Conference 2009. At the conference, participants discussed land, energy and primarily water-use efficiency.

“Agriculture uses 70 percent of the fresh water withdrawals from our planet each year,” Eblen said. "This resource is becoming scarcer as we move forward. If we were to increase agriculture’s efficient use of water by 10 percent, that would be equivalent to the current total use of household water on the planet. We are determining how we can communicate to external audiences—including policy makers—how our technology and others are a part of the solution. There is no one company that should own this issue more than Monsanto.”

With a very productive year behind us, Eblen said the company has a bright future with several tasks ahead of it.

“We are really focusing on implementing the commitment country by country, region by region,” he said. “Our sustainable yield plan in the U.S. is different from our plan in Brazil or India because the needs, crops and issues we’re dealing with are different.”

Eblen said we also need to identify more ways to engage growers in the sustainable yield discussion.

“If we’re helping a farmer produce more and conserve more, we really have to do this as a partnership with our grower-customers,” Eblen said. “Our work in this space can become an anchor-point for our relationship with growers. We need to look at how we can engage them and how they can engage us. We need to think about how to double yield, jointly."

Overall, Eblen said, externally, Monsanto is in a good place. “Our ads are receiving a lot of attention—some of it’s good; some of it’s bad. However, I believe we are in the center of the discussion right now. I am amazed at how many dialogues external audiences are inviting us into. The doors are opening up significantly.”

In the upcoming year, he hopes employees will also develop a greater connection to the commitment.

“Our footprint, what we do as a company and employees being responsible around recycling and energy-efficiency is important and expected. But, all employees need to think about how they contribute daily to sustainable yield. Because at the end of the day, this is about our company trying to do some really cool things to impact the world we all live in.”