Monsanto Leverages Business Resource Groups to aid the African & African-American Farmer

August 4, 2017 8:41 am

By Damion S. Jones, Ph.D., SPHR, Global Director of Inclusion & Diversity, Monsanto

It can often be perceived as challenging for a business-to-business company to take inclusion seriously through a commercial lens. The potential for this lack of focus is particularly high in U.S.-based agricultural companies where the broader market of growers isn’t as diverse as the country’s consumer product citizenship. In fact, while Blacks and African-Americans are 12 percent of the U.S. population of consumers, they are only 1.4 percent of the total farm operators in the US per the last agricultural census conducted in 2012. This represented 46,582 Black or African-American farm operators. However, upon investigation into this customer base, we found many of the issues facing Black growers existed in areas we as a company could positively impact.

Between 2006 and 2008 Monsanto began working to strengthen the relationship between 1890s Land-Grant universities and Black growers. Dr. Dewayne Goldmon, then our Product Development and Marketing Manager, led the efforts to establish a Black Grower Advisory Council to advise the company on the unique concerns of Black farmers. Additionally, Monsanto helped the council to develop and implement an Agricultural Apprenticeship program, which provides a unique hands-on farm experience to select students from these land grant institutions to help prepare them for future agricultural careers. This was to gain access to viable talent and better understand the needs of Black growers. Historically, the challenges facing Black growers have hinged on: lack of access to land, lack of access to technology and a lack of voice on Capitol Hill. In exchange for their perspective, we provided these growers access to new technologies via field trials and candid information on marketing programs. In 2008, a two-day planning event was conducted as the group formed, and Monsanto’s Africans & African-Americans in Monsanto group (AAIM) helped to form bonds with the growers.

By 2009, what began as an advisory Council became their own independent organization and the National Black Growers Council (NBGC) was established. That same year, Dewayne and nearly a dozen members of the NBGC visited various leaders of USDA agencies, and select members of the U.S. House and Senate, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus. In more than 20 meetings, the group reinforced their newly minted mission to “improve the efficiency, productivity, and sustainability of Black row crop farmers.” Specifically, these meetings gave voice to the issues impacting Black farmers from Maryland to Texas who were providing food, clothing and feed on approximately 60,000 acres and the important role that Monsanto’s technology had played in helping them create and maintain their operations.

The relationship of sharing technology for perspective and advocacy continued and in 2012 Monsanto even donated $100,000 to the Washington DC Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Foundation Project on behalf of the Council. Monsanto engaged with NBGC and featured some of their members in national ad campaigns that focused on the contributions of America’s farmers, an effort which helped to highlight the diversity in American agriculture. In 2014, AAIM and the Council began hosting Farmer Ride-a-longs to provide Business Resource Network (BRN) members access to farming experiences to better orient them to customer needs — as many of them hadn’t grown up on farms. This helped to build business acumen among the membership and enhance advocacy for Black agriculture. The impact of this partnership on Black farmers was also global. That same year Mike Frank, Senior Vice President and our global commercial lead, attended an AAIM event to address the Council, AAIM membership and all employees regarding our reorganization efforts to make Africa a separate commercial region.

Over the years as Monsanto further solidified its commitment to the region, the NBGC had also partnered to engage African farmers and was hosted by AAIM to hear Monsanto’s direction for the region from Frank at the event. Additionally, the council participated on a panel to provide insights from the Black grower perspective. For Monsanto Africa, this was just one initiative among others to improve grower productivity, such as Water Efficient Maize in Africa (WEMA). Here Monsanto targeted our technology to improve the lives of African growers to which AAIM provided perspective — many of their members being from the region.

This relationship continues, and on June 28th, 2017, AAIM hosted a special panel discussion featuring members of the National Black Growers Council on the topic of “Farming with a Purpose.” This event took a closer look at the issues affecting Black farmers and how the NBGC is providing mentoring and technical support to struggling farmers. The event was moderated by Bill Jolly, Vegetable Global Supply Chain Lead and past president of AAIM. This partnership has been ongoing between Monsanto, AAIM and the NBGC over the years and has involved fact-finding trips to Africa, collaborations to obtain disaster relief and congressional testimony on the importance of GMOs to Black farmers. In fact, AAIM and the NBGC will be heading to D.C. again in the coming weeks. The relationship Monsanto has with our Black farmers is strong and just as we are intentional in our inclusion strategy, business resource group model and sustainability efforts, it will continue.

 

 

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