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5 Minutes with David MacLennan

David MacLennan, Thomas Strand

Photo by Thomas Strand

How your food gets onto your plate or into your hands is “fascinating, complicated and necessary,” notes David MacLennan. As the top executive at Minnesota-based Cargill, he leads the largest private company in the United States ($134.9 billion in revenues in fiscal 2014), one that’s involved in global agricultural supply chains, including for soybeans, corn, wheat, palm and cocoa. He recently spoke to Sky about the global business of food and how Cargill is working to improve farmers’ yields worldwide.

SKY: How can the developing world realize its full food-production potential?
MacLennan: In terms of moving food from places of surplus to places of deficit, you have to make sure you have open trade—reducing tariffs and taxes that create disincentives for moving that food to where it’s needed.

One issue I’ve been focused on is how we can help Africa develop as a place to produce food and help them with their own food security. Something like 25 percent of the world’s arable land is in Africa. It’s a tremendously underutilized resource.

Does encouraging increased production in the developing world negatively impact U.S. farmers?
It absolutely does not come at the detriment of North American farmers. The world’s population is growing. People want to eat more, they want to eat better. As incomes increase, people change their diets. They move out of grains, fruits and vegetables into meat and fancier foods. The demand for agricultural commodities produced in North America will continue to grow.

What has Cargill done to reduce global deforestation?
Thirteen or 14 percent of greenhouse gases come from deforestation related to agriculture, particularly soy, palm and beef. Because of our unique position in these supply chains, we have an ability to influence the way soybeans and palm are grown and produced. For instance, we won’t buy products from areas that have been deforested past a certain date.

Does the world actually need to produce more food?
There’s enough food produced today to fill in the deficit, but it has to be able to get through open borders. It can’t just come from the traditional growing areas.

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