Remarks for AgBio Tech Session at U.S.-India Tech Summit

Charles H. Rivkin
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
New Delhi, India
November 18, 2014

Thank you and good afternoon.

I am delighted to attend this panel, and to join such a distinguished collection of dignitaries and experts, as we address the greatest technological challenges of our time.

One of those has to be: Can we sustainably feed the world’s projected 9 billion people by the year 2050?

My response is simple: We are on the right path. Agricultural bio-technology has had a lot to do with our success so far. It will continue to be critical to our long term success in the decades ahead – as we face challenges from harsher weather conditions to a growing global population.

I recently attended the World Food Prize ceremony in Iowa which honored Dr. Sanjaya Rajaram as its 2014 Laureate.

Profoundly influenced by Dr. Norm Borlaug, the founder of the green revolution, he developed 480 varieties of wheat to tackle different kinds of challenges and conditions.

They were released in 51 countries on six continents and – even today – they continue to feed the world at scale, and benefit small- and large-scale farmers everywhere.

Those are the kind of precedents that lead to greater things.

As Dr. Rajaram said at the prize ceremony:

“I believe the challenges of 21st-Century agriculture and food production are surmountable compared to the past, and can be overcome provided we can bring together new knowledge and delivery systems to farmers in a very sustainable manner.”

The Food and Agriculture Organization has projected that to meet expected demand by 2050, we need to increase current global agricultural production levels by 60%. And we need to do so in an environmentally sustainable manner.

So we must continue to leverage the technological and the ecological know-how of scientists and farmers, and scale up the “new knowledge and delivery systems” that Dr. Rajaram talked about – if we are going to feed a world with a growing population and limited natural resources.

Of course, technology is just one part of the equation. We must also recognize that food security and nutrition are inextricably related to critical issues like climate change, political stability, and human and economic development.

As we think about feeding the millions living below the poverty level in developed and developing nations around the world, we must also address what happens to crops in extreme weather which can oversaturate our crops with too much rain – or choke them with too little. And we must contend with the continued erosion of biodiversity, natural resources and ecosystem services.

We must consider the policies we are developing to support better educational systems and create economic opportunity – so that people have the means, the knowledge and the resources to make better choices – from how they vote to the families they plan to the nutrition they demand in their food.

Even as we try to incorporate those compound issues, we are also aware that each country has its own idiosyncratic challenges.

In India, for example, 52 per cent of the population lives and works in the agricultural sector. So we must ensure there are economic opportunities and incentives there.

As many of the 137 million Indians now living in poverty join the middle class, they will demand more quantity, more protein, and more choices in their diet. So we must contend with that as well.

Innovation in our agricultural technology is not the only solution, but it is a significant part of it.

The good news is, we are evolving farming methods and technologies that increase productivity, are environmentally sustainable and can help us adjust to climate change.


Recent advances in precision farming, breeding, and biotechnology have done much to improve crop efficiency and production, providing a platform for sustainable economic growth.

Today, these and other technologies can help us raise productivity while using less water and land, and decrease the global footprint of agriculture.

The numbers are telling. Genetically engineered crops have increased crop yield and value by approximately $78 billion over the past fifteen years.

Crops aren’t just growing in greater volume. Farmers don’t have to work so hard. They are reducing frequent plowing, which damages the soil; and they are putting fewer chemicals into the earth, the water and the air.

Currently, cotton is the only GE crop approved for commercial cultivation in India, but it has already greatly helped the country.

If you’ll permit me to quote some numbers again: India has seen a 98 per cent increase in cotton yields, a doubling of profits, and an 82.8 per cent reduction in the number of insecticide spayings per season.

As a result, India has emerged as the second largest producer and exporter of cotton in the world. And agricultural biotechnology has emerged as the third largest component in India’s domestic biotech industry.

This is just one of the many ways that agricultural innovation, including the use of modern biotechnology, can be an important tool for addressing food-related challenges.

In his speech on Indian’s Independence Day, Prime Minister Modi quoted a well-known mantra from the Vedic period.

The English translation goes something like this: “We walk together, we move together, we think together, we resolve together and together we take this country forward.”

The stakes are enormously high, but the advances we have already made in research and technology give us hope. And as long as we continue to work collectively, whether we are scientists or farmers, members of the NGO community or political leaders, I am confident that we can – and will – get there together.

Thank you.