Jeff Simmons is president of Elanco, the Greenfield-based agricultural subsidiary of Eli Lilly and Company. Because Elanco is a major player in global food production, Mr. Simmons delivered the opening keynote at the American Bankers Association’s 2011 National Agricultural Bankers Conference, concluding today in Indianapolis.
Mr. Simmons was very impressive in presenting “The Three Rights: Food, Choice, Sustainability,” and equally impressive in conveying passion for his mission. But his message was frightening. Worldwide, 25 percent of the population subsists on $1 or less per day, and 43 percent are living on $2 or less per day. With seven billion people in the world, those percentages amount to staggering poverty. Nearly half of the world wakes up each day not knowing where their next meal will come from, or when it will happen.
Bankers, specifically agricultural lenders, will have a big role to play in the next 40 years. The world’s food producers have doubled production, largely through technology, in the past 50 years. In order to feed our exploding world population and to properly feed today’s hungry, that production will need to double again by 2050. Lenders will need to encourage farmers and ranchers by financing new technology.
It is hard to fathom that a doubling of food output will be required in the next 40 years. If we are to meet this goal, many of us will need to become advocates. Much as we have seen in the banking industry, food production is highly regulated. Congress will likely struggle with whether to increase regulatory requirements—though increased regulations would surely compromise food production, as well as increase its cost.
The importance of U.S. producers cannot be overstated, since they account for about half of world production of food, and their product is a mainstay export for the United States. Eventually the banking industry may need to invest some of its lobbying efforts to help keep Dodd-Frank-like legislation from handcuffing food production.
Feeding the world’s hungry seems like a worthy cause to me.