Making a Difference One Step at a Time
It’s a walk I’ve never forgotten. Its length was short, but the impact was immense.
I was in rural central Kenya, and had just finished touring a small maize and livestock farm with a middle-aged farmer I had come to know. Before I could leave he stopped me, being sure to make eye contact.
“The work John Deere is doing with TechnoServe is making a difference,” he said gratefully. “I can see the kids in our community look much healthier than just one year ago.”
I remember standing there, letting the words sink in. Our work in Africa can be frustratingly slow and often feels like progress is only measured in yield and income increases. But, here, in front of me was a man telling me the true measurement was in young lives. I had never felt better about what I was doing.
I can imagine Dr. Borlaug felt the same frustrations at times, but likely had similar experiences to mine over the course of his career.
I first attended the World Food Prize symposium in 2012, and in 2018 I was honored to participate in a Symposium panel on the main stage. It has been the highlight of my experiences at the World Food Prize to date.
I had limited knowledge of the World Food Prize and Norman Borlaug prior to that first symposium in 2012. I had recently accepted a new position in the John Deere Citizenship organization working on food security in sub-Saharan Africa. That first symposium provided me much broader exposure to the issues surrounding hunger, and I was fascinated learning about Dr. Borlaug and his contributions. I quickly developed an immense respect for Dr. Borlaug and his life-long commitment to help solve the hunger crisis.
Most people around the world are aware of John Deere and many associate our company with large, innovative equipment used by commercial farmers. This is understandable and accurate in the context of the United States, Australia, and South Africa.
However, the company has a broad portfolio, including construction, forestry, road building, and consumer equipment for land owners. The company also provides equipment designed to meet the unique needs of smallholder farmers. These are the very farmers that Dr. Borlaug dedicated his efforts to serving.
Many of these customers cannot afford to invest in modern mechanization solutions themselves. However, like Dr. Borlaug, John Deere believes that these poor farmers should have access to the latest solutions and technologies available on the planet. As a company we are making a committed investment to ensure this happens through the development of a mechanization service provider (MSP) model.
These models allow farmers with small land holdings to secure plowing, planting, spraying and harvesting from MSPs that invest in the equipment and technologies.
Success requires significant investments in partnerships that establish sustainable models. I now lead John Deere’s efforts to build these new models through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) that establish and develop the necessary ecosystem for sustainability. In addition to providing equipment, John Deere is establishing world-class dealers that will help maintain this equipment in remote parts of the world.
We couple this with finance solutions provided by John Deere Financial and cell phone-based technologies for smallholder farmers and MSPs through our partnership with Hello Tractor.
We seek additional partnerships that help deliver greater access to finance, farming, business training and access to modern seeds, fertilizers and crop protection products. These partnerships can be developed with large NGOs, smaller implementing partners, and various funding agencies including local and international government agencies.
This is not easy work and requires patience as the problems are significant and the timelines can be long. However, these are the same challenges that Dr. Borlaug faced and, like him, John Deere is committed to success.
I am blessed to work for John Deere, knowing that it so clearly embraces the ideals of passionate people in this field like Dr. Borlaug. I frequently tell people that I have one of the best jobs in the company, because I get to do incredibly important work. That is reinforced each year, when I meet with other passionate and committed people at the annual World Food Prize symposium in Des Moines, Iowa.
The upcoming World Food Prize symposium in October 2019 will be especially meaningful for me. I have had the honor and pleasure of getting to know Ambassador Kenneth Quinn the last several years and have developed an immense respect for him and his leadership of the World Food Prize. It will be a bittersweet year as we recognize Ambassador Quinn’s amazing tenure and stewardship of this great organization. I look forward to bidding him farewell and wishing him the best in retirement.
Though a great leader has chosen to step down, I am excited about the upcoming transition, and I am incredibly optimistic about the future of the World Food Prize and the dreams of Dr. Borlaug to feed the world.
As a result, I know there will be many roadside conversations to come in rural African communities. And I’ll always be reminded that the words said during the journey can have as much impact as the steps taken to get there.
Bio: After completing degrees in Agricultural Economics at Kansas State University, Geoff worked for an agricultural consulting company. He then worked in the agriculture technology field for ten years, including roles with AGRIS and Farmland Industries. He became Director, John Deere Information Systems in 1999 and led that business for seven years. In 2006, he assumed the leadership of John Deere’s Frontier business unit. In 2009, he accepted additional responsibilities for establishing strategic partnering units in Deere markets around the world.
He moved to Deere’s Citizenship group in 2012, and led the globalization of their programs to align with the company’s growth aspirations. A significant focus area was creating self-sustaining agricultural development models in sub-Saharan Africa. In November 2017, he assumed the newly created position of Director Regional Ag Strategic Planning. In this role he is responsible for Africa business development and public affairs.