The Real P3

Sustainability Series: Food Security for the Future with Peter Kelly

January 25, 2024 Casey L. Bradley Season 2024 Episode 101
The Real P3
Sustainability Series: Food Security for the Future with Peter Kelly
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Show Notes Transcript

In this inspiring episode of *The Real P3 Podcast*, we delve into the world of agricultural innovation with our guest, Peter Kelly, the visionary founder of Grow Further. This organization is at the forefront of combating global food insecurity through groundbreaking agricultural research and development.

Peter Kelly's Background: Before his impactful journey with Grow Further, Peter was an assistant professor of economics at Renmin University in Beijing, specializing in agriculture, international development, and the environment. His academic prowess is backed by a PhD in Agricultural and Resource Economics from UC Berkeley and a BS from UC Davis. He's also an influential figure in several charitable and policy organizations, including his role as vice chair of Carbon Washington.

From Academia to Grow Further: Our dialogue begins with Casey Bradley exploring Peter's transition from academia to establishing a nonprofit. Peter shares the genesis of his vision during his college days and the pivotal influences that shaped his decision, including an insightful conversation with Bill Gates Sr.

Grow Further's Grant Initiatives: Peter reveals the unique approach of Grow Further in selecting grant projects. Among 700 applications, the organization funded two major initiatives in 2021: a project to develop the first commercial variety of Bambara groundnut in Ghana and an AI-driven app in Tanzania for early detection of maize and bean diseases. These projects highlight the organization's commitment to innovations with extensive, scalable impacts.

Confronting Food Security and Climate Change: The conversation shifts to the increasing role of technology in agriculture and the complex factors affecting agricultural productivity in Africa. Peter emphasizes the importance of adapting to climate change and the socioeconomic barriers hindering progress.

Vision and Involvement: Peter discusses the landscape of organizations tackling food insecurity and Grow Further's unique role in supporting long-term agricultural research. He invites listeners to engage with the organization through various avenues, emphasizing the need for collective effort in this domain.

Grow Further's Mission: At its core, Grow Further exists to address the pressing need for sustainable food security. With millions facing undernourishment and malnutrition globally, the organization focuses on innovative solutions to enhance agriculture in the face of population growth, climate change, and evolving agricultural challenges.

Final Thoughts: This episode not only enlightens but also encourages us to think deeply about our role in shaping a sustainable and nutritious future. Join us in exploring how innovation, passion, and community involvement can transform the landscape of global food security.

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Casey Bradley
 0:00:00
 Welcome to the Real P3 Podcast, hosted by me, Casey Bradley. We're diving into the heart of animal nutrition and health, broadening our scope with insights from the industry leaders and experts from the Sun Swine Group and Swine Nutrition Management. Join us for a journey of discovery and practical advice as we navigate the ever-evolving world of my gastrics. Produced by the Sun Swine Group and sponsored by Swine Nutrition Management, this podcast is your gateway to the latest in animal nutrition where every episode promises to be as enlightening as it is inspiring. Tune in, learn, and grow with us. This is the Real P3 podcast where science meets heart and knowledge transforms into action. To wrap up our sustainability series, I thought we shouldn't just talk about sustainability, but we should do something about it. And I came across Grow Further this last year in 2023. And I got really excited about their mission. They are trying to invest in a food secure future. We all talk about it. And so it's really exciting for me to have Peter Kelly on here. And to let you know that I'm not just talking about it. But I am a donor and part of this organization now. And I made that pledge for 2024 as food security is at the top of my mind as it should be all of us in the agriculture industry. So I hope you learn more about Grow Further, go check them out. But here's the interview with Peter Kelly. Stay tuned.

Peter Kelly
 0:01:41
 So I'm Peter Kelly, the founder of Grow Further. And my professional background is as an agricultural and development economist. And our mission as an organization is to empower farmers, scientists, and and individuals to create food secure futures. So we do that by making grants to agricultural research and development projects in developing countries that aim to benefit smallholder farmers in the areas of adapting to climate change and improving income and nutrition.

Casey Bradley
 0:02:20
 Great, thank you for the introduction and background. I was going to say, how does an economist in agriculture go from that world to the nonprofit? What was that motivation and change for you to initiate that change in career?

Peter Kelly
 0:02:32
 Well, the idea for Grow Further actually originated before I did my PhD in agricultural and resource economics. There was a class assignment in my introduction to international agricultural development course, and it was to basically visit some sites on the World Wide Web, which was new at the time, and learn about some different organizations in international agriculture and write a report on it. And basically what my term paper said was there are some organizations that have done really big things for food security, like developed crops that millions of farmers are growing and prevented famines and that type of thing. And then there are other organizations where it's really obvious on the website how one can get involved as a donor or a volunteer, but that those those types of organizations did not overlap. And I thought to myself back in college, someday, I'm going to do something about this. I wasn't quite ready at the time. But that was when the idea was planted. So I actually left a tenure track or the Chinese equivalent of 10 of tenure, I was I was at a university in, in China, teaching, teaching economics, and in order to start this organization. And leaving the tenure track is a big deal, so I consulted with a lot of people about this decision from farmers to scientists. One scientist told me that, he was a Buddhist crop scientist, he told me that he thought this was a great idea and you're going to end up in nirvana if you do this. And then after nirvana, you're going to be, if you are unfortunate enough to be reincarnated as a smallholder farmer in a developing country, of which there are of course several billion, then you will have a better second life as well. So that was an interesting comment that I got there. Probably the most influential single person in my decision to pull the trigger on the career change was Bill Gates Sr., the father of the chief software architect. And he told me, come back. America needs people like you. And if the first iteration doesn't work, the second probably will. And if the second doesn't work, the third probably will.

Casey Bradley
 0:05:19
 Well, that's some great advice. I mean, and I kind of feel the same way as an entrepreneur. And, you know, I am for profit, but I do a lot of outreach as well across the world. It's really interesting talking about your grants or at least learning about your grants for this year and kind of explain to the audience how you utilize your funds and what do you support, what types of initiatives?

Peter Kelly
 0:05:43
 Well, we put out open-ended grant announcements that are mainly intended for researchers at universities and researchers in developing countries, but that are open more broadly than that, that do not specify specific crops or specific technical approaches, just look at some broad goals like helping smallholder farmers adapt to climate change, that type of thing. And then we get lots of applications, we got 700 applications in response to our first grant announcement, which is pretty unusual for a new grant maker. It shows the big demand for what we're doing. And then we basically screened those for the ones that had the biggest potential not only to get adopted by farmers, but to get adopted by a large number of farmers. So, some projects, there were a lot of good ideas, but some of them looked like they might get adopted by a hundred farmers in one village and others by millions. So we obviously chose the ones with the potential for millions. And then we put the finalists through a peer review process and in front of our members who are donors to the organization, who come from a variety of professional backgrounds and different parts of the world. One of our members is an executive in the pork industry. Many of our members are actually part of the diaspora from developing countries because folks from developing countries get the importance of food security in a way that sometimes Americans take it for granted. But in the United States, we have a great culture of philanthropy. So people who bridge those cultures account for many of our members.

Casey Bradley
 0:07:43
 Well, definitely. And hopefully here in 2024, I will officially become a member as well and start supporting your initiative. And kind of can you at least tell us about the two, I think, two grants you awarded this year, at least? those projects?

Peter Kelly
 0:07:58
 Yes, we've awarded two grants this year. One was to CSIR Sari, which is a government research institute in northern Ghana, and that was for a Bambara groundnut breeding project to create the first ever commercial variety of Bambara groundnut. And this is a type of bean that is typically grown by women farmers. It's nutritious, it does well under drought and other adverse conditions, it puts nutrients back into the soil, it has a lot of advantages. But it's not grown on nearly the scale that it could be because the yields are relatively low and it hasn't gotten a lot of research attention. So this project to change that and to make a difference throughout Ghana and beyond. The other project is at the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology in Tanzania in cooperation with some other institutions there. And it is a project to develop an artificial intelligence-based app to identify maize and bean diseases at an early stage. So this is a big problem. Maize is a very important crop in East Africa and diseases are a big problem of maize worse than in the United States. But there are things that can be done if you catch it early. So this smartphone app, which if a farmer doesn't own a smartphone, they can they can access it in other ways, allows for early identification and intervention.

Casey Bradley
 0:09:47
 Well, I thought that one sounded really cool because you're obviously it's in Tanzania from researchers there, but also other third world countries that face the similar technology issues and growing conditions that, you know, plant disease is accelerating.

Peter Kelly
 0:10:15
 And yes, that is the plan to share data with researchers in other places. Actually, developing an app like this is relatively straightforward. It's getting the data to train it. That is the main job. So the researchers will be drawing on public data sets from throughout the continent and then sharing data that they collect with other researchers as well.

Casey Bradley
 0:10:43
 countries or third world countries however we want to define them. The ability or accessibility of people with smartphones and technology, is that growing? Does that shape the capabilities of connecting them and helping them with their operations and food security?

Peter Kelly
 0:11:01
 Well, the adoption of smartphones is increasing rapidly. Not every farmer has a smartphone at this point, but that's likely to change relatively soon. And that facilitates a lot of projects like this one in Tanzania, for instance. The Bambara groundnuts is actually pretty strong. They can sell what they produce in the local market at a premium price as it is. So they don't necessarily need a smartphone in order to connect to markets there, although it obviously wouldn't hurt. Since you're a PhD in agriculture economics, what is hurting Africa from really kind of growing their capabilities of being the major agriculture player beyond these projects that you're working on today.

Casey Bradley
 0:12:08
 What is holding back agricultural productivity in Africa? 

Peter Kelly

Well it's a combination of geographic factors and socioeconomic factors. So geographically speaking, the soils tend to be geologically old, which means that they have fewer nutrients. And it's tropical, which means that the summertime day length is shorter. And then there are region-specific factors, like, well, much of the continent is desert or semi-arid, and other places are mountainous or getting too much rain or whatever. And then there are socioeconomic factors which are probably at least as important which affect the ability to afford fertilizers and irrigation and modern seeds and so forth. Why Africa has a lower income than other places is a complex question that actually some of some of my colleagues in In the economics profession have studied that but it's a complex question that goes that goes beyond agriculture. 

Casey Bradley
 0:13:24
 Well, thank you, I mean, obviously you summarized it really easily But as you said, it's a little more complex than that but looking into all your grant applications How many different companies did that or not companies? Sorry countries did that represent around the world?

Peter Kelly
 0:13:41
 Oh, that's a good question. Probably several, we got applications from probably several different, several dozen countries. About three quarters of them were from Africa, but there were a number from South and Southeast Asia as well, including some finalists from those regions. So it just so happens that both of our initial projects are in Anglophone Africa, but we are by no means restricted to funding projects in Anglophone Africa. One of the countries that we're interested in expanding into soon is India. And this will help us to engage the Indian diaspora as members and volunteers and add value in that way.

Casey Bradley
 0:14:39
 Let's talk about kind of food security in your mind. What are some of the major efforts that society needs to change or what do we need to do even in agriculture to bridge the gap of food security in your mind?

Peter Kelly
 0:14:55
 Well, improving nutrition is necessary to achieving food security. It's not just about having enough calories to eat. And climate change is a big issue that touches food security in lots of ways. So if we don't adapt to climate change, then we're not going to keep up. Actually, food insecurity has been getting worse over the last couple of years, even in the years prior to the pandemic, in part because of the effects of climate change. So we're talking about droughts, floods, but less obviously increasing CO2 levels in many crops have the effect of increasing the production of carbohydrates and decreasing the production of other nutrients in those crops. So from a nutrition perspective, without improving the nutritional value of crops, just holding everything else equal as the CO2 levels go up, the nutrition goes down.

Casey Bradley
 0:16:11
 That's a very interesting perspective, because you would say that food insecurity that in your mind is nutrition is across the globe. It doesn't matter where we are. In my mind, in my backyard, I have food insecure people and because they may be getting the calories but they're not getting the nutrition. It's a, yeah, poor nutrition is a global problem, yes. And so it's really interesting to hear them based on those thoughts from you, this groundnut project. I know what's unique about this bean, will it be a higher protein bean and help build the soils to where they'll be able to get more nutrition out of different crops if they rotate?

Peter Kelly
 0:16:58
 Yes, it is a highly nutritious type of bean. There are other highly nutritious beans out there as well, but this is one of them. It's particularly high in iron. You can actually buy a Bombara groundnut milk derived from beans grown in Ghana. And if you read the nutrition label and compare it to soy milk or walnut milk or almond milk, you can see that it compares pretty favorably, particularly in iron content.

Casey Bradley
 0:17:35
 So that would help some of the deficiencies even on that continent within the population?

Peter Kelly
 0:17:40
 Well, the Bambara groundnut project promises to improve nutrition locally in two different ways. One is when farmers and their communities consume the nuts or the beans, it improves the nutritional status of the family. And the other is that it is a cash crop that can improve farmers incomes and can be used as an export commodity. And when farmers incomes increase, that gives them the purchasing power to purchase adequate food and more nutritious food because sometimes fruits and vegetables and meats and other foods with more nutrition can be less affordable than the basic grains.

Casey Bradley
 0:18:32
 That's really cool. And what you're doing to help that, how does some other nonprofit organizations kind of fit into this food security and climate change? Because we always hear about climate change and you're the first one that I talked to and when we talk about that is I believe in climate change, but you talked about adaptability. And kind of where do you see the forefront of your organization or others going to help kind of those two initiatives?

Peter Kelly
 0:18:58
 Well, there are many organizations addressing food insecurity from different angles. Many of the ones that are easiest for individuals to get involved in, like food banks, for instance, that's easy to get involved as a donor or a volunteer, but they're taking a more short-term approach, whereas our approach is to support research and development for the long-term future of food security, similar to a medical research charity. And we wish that there were a whole sector of agricultural research charities that folks could get involved in, just like there are medical research charities where you can support the future of health. But at the moment, it's pretty much just us. And we are looking to build a sector of agricultural research charities because we can't do this alone. Food security is much too big of a problem for one organization to address alone.

Casey Bradley
 0:20:03
 Well, I appreciate you going down that path, and if somebody's listening to this and really interested in your initiatives, how do they become involved? How can, because I'm assuming out of those 700 applicants, that you probably could have funded more than two, but you selected the two most probable for success.

Peter Kelly
 0:20:22
 Well, there are lots of different ways to get involved. You can go to growfurther.org and sign up for our newsletter. We have individual memberships where you can participate in conversations with the scientists, other educational programs if you have time and inclination. Actually be part of the process of choosing which projects we fund, contribute professional skills in some cases and so on. We also have opportunities for companies to get involved, matching donations of employees in engaging in creating chapters at companies and so on. So whether you are an agriculture and food security professional or not, we aim to have relevant and meaningful ways to engage.

Casey Bradley
 0:21:29
 Awesome. And I guess one kind of final question for you, what is hindering modern day agriculture in your mind solve food security or insecurity around the world?

Peter Kelly
 0:21:43
 Well, that's a complicated question. Looking forward, and even to some extent in the present, climate change is a big factor affecting food security.

Casey Bradley
 0:21:58
 And just coming up with technologies that we're going to be able to adapt and work in that environment.

Peter Kelly
 0:22:02
 Yeah, and agricultural technology is a really easy and cost-effective way of adapting to climate change. I mean, building seawalls is expensive, reducing emissions is expensive. All of those kinds of industrial capital investments are very expensive. But this Bombaro Groundnut project, this is a $133,000 project, and if it succeeds, it could serve millions of farmers with a crop that's ready for droughts and other adverse climatic conditions. So this is a very cost-effective way of adapting. And I say this as an economist who is familiar with the literature on this stuff, a very cost effective way of helping society adapt to a changing climate.

Casey Bradley
 0:22:53
 Well, that's incredible. I really appreciate your thoughts and for the audience, growfurther.org if they want to get involved or donate. Well, thank you, Peter. And it was a pleasure to have you on the Real P3 to share your mission with my audience.

Peter Kelly
 0:23:09
 Well, thank you.

Casey Bradley
 0:23:11
 So what are you waiting for? Go visit growfurther.org now to learn how you can be a part of this important mission today. And that wraps up our sustainability series. And as I mentioned in some of the social media posts and things are going to be changing here for the real P3 in 2024. We're going to be focusing more on animal nutrition and health from a monogastric perspective and not just focusing on pigs. We'll have some educational content. We'll have some great guests as well. So, it's gonna be a variety of topics and probably moving away from that special series that we tried out here in the last part of 2023. So, I hope you keep coming back to learn more and stay up to date with what's going on in our industry. But as always, if you get a chance going on in our industry. But as always, if you get a chance But as always, if you get a chance today, hug a pig for me.