Next Steps: Working Toward a Sustainable Food Future

Mar 15, 2016 11:00 AM ET

Achieving global food security is important to every person on this planet.  It is an issue that sits at the heart of our ability to forge a sustainable future, feed a growing population, tackle climate change, and deliver long-term prosperity to an increasingly diverse base of farmers.  Working to move a highly complex system like global food production toward a more sustainable future requires that all stakeholders have a seat at the table as well as inclusive, collaborative solutions, based on sound science and supported by relentless innovation.   

This is one of the reasons that after several decades of working in the public policy arena, I decided to accept the appointment as Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) for DuPont.  As the daughter of a multi-generational Georgia farming family, I know firsthand the day-to-day challenges and enumerable rewards of farming and how corporate and government agricultural decisions can directly impact farmers’ productivity and opportunity.  As the former Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, I have seen the power of smart, commonsense agricultural policies at the global, national, and local level up close.  I also know that the face of agriculture is changing and that not only must we help farmers be more productive on every acre of land but that we must seek to empower a diverse and growing rank of future farmers.   

Now, at DuPont, I have the opportunity to take on a new, enhanced role: to work with one of the world’s premiere science companies on the front lines of developing solutions that will help us deliver safe, nutritious, and sustainable food to feed our growing population.  DuPont has a long history of developing sustainable solutions at every stage of the food value chain, from seed technology that helps farmers weather droughts to innovative packaging that reduces food waste during storage and transport.

This proven track record of innovation alone made DuPont a compelling next step in my career.  DuPont is a global sustainability pioneer, among the first companies in the United States to appoint a Chief Sustainability Officer (I’m proud to say, my predecessor, Linda Fisher); sign the United Nations Global Compact, and; engage proactively on climate-related frameworks and policies. DuPont is also deeply committed to global food security and is making significant progress against a robust set of Food Security Goals, including efforts to improve rural farmer livelihoods and educate the next generation of young farmers. 

This has been a major career transition, and one that I did not enter into lightly.  The world’s agricultural system must evolve to sustainably feed the estimated 9 billion people who will inhabit our planet by 2050.  The United Nations estimates that global food demand will increase by 60 percent during this time frame.  Unfortunately, we are not even meeting the needs of today’s generation with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimating that nearly 800 million people around the world lacking access to a safe and nutritious supply of food.  Our best hope for pioneering inclusive, sustainable solutions to achieve global food security requires developing agricultural production and productivity through research, advancing suitable policy frameworks at all levels, encouraging trade, and supporting efforts to reduce global food loss and waste.     

As a newly minted CSO working for a global company delivery science and innovation to all aspects of the food system, I look forward to engaging all of our stakeholders and working toward solutions that create long-term value for my company, the customers we serve, and the communities in which we operate.  From all sides, I understand that the actions we take today to reshape and enhance the sustainability of our global food system will benefit generations to come, providing a food supply that also assures better food security and access to nutritious food for all.

Krysta Harden is vice president of Public Policy and chief sustainability officer, joining DuPont in February 2016.  Most recently, she served as deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), where she helped to shape food and agriculture policy.  At USDA and throughout her career in agriculture, Ms. Harden has focused on growing the ranks of agriculture and expanding opportunity for women, young people, immigrants, socially disadvantaged producers, returning veterans and retirees.  She is also the daughter of Georgia farmers.