Beth Roden

Three Important Lessons on Collaborating for a Healthy Future of Food

I landed in Washington, D.C. just as the city’s famed cherry blossoms were in full bloom. It served as a fitting backdrop for three fruitful experiences that reflect the Bayer commitment to open dialogue.

Over the course of 24 hours, we engaged in three pivotal events: the launch of Bayer’s first ever ForwardFarming location in the U.S., where farmer Trey Hill shared his point of view on how to be a farmer and an environmentalist; the launch of Better Life Farming, an alliance to empower smallholders that led with the voices of farmers Ruth Kajuju from Kenya and Henry Gurang from the Philippines, each sharing experiences with an engaged audience at the World Bank; and a roundtable discussion that brought together diverse stakeholders focused on everything from environmental sustainability to global food security to discuss how we work together to ensure a healthy future of food.

While my travel schedule only allowed me to attend the Better Life Farming launch and then roundtable discussion, I was most struck by the things we have in common – rather than what divides us.

The truth is that I didn't grow up on a farm, but in the 14-plus years I've worked in the agriculture business, I've been a passionate advocate for telling the entire food chain story – especially connecting those who consume food with those who produce it. The events in D.C. showcased the power of dialogue, namely what can emerge from the opportunity to listen, to learn, and to discuss.

With that in mind, I wanted to share important lessons I learned and reminders for what defines effective communications in today's world of information overload.

Beth Roden
Beth Roden
Beth Roden
Global Communications Head, Crop Science Division and Animal Health Business Unit of Bayer AG

Three Lessons from Coming Together

1. First, listen.

The first step to understanding new or different perspectives is to listen. This may seem obvious, but it is especially crucial at this moment in time. I spent much of my time in Washington actively listening, taking notes and asking questions to make sure I understood what we were hearing from farmers, industry partners, NGO community, journalists, and other guests at launch events and the roundtable dialogue.

Amanda MacArthur of Pyxera Global reminded us that each farmer, for example, has “different roles, dreams and aspirations, and making sure that is recognized is critically important.” You can only uncover those nuances through active listening. And this is often a step in communications that is forgotten!

2. Nothing can replace human interaction when it comes to building trust.

It’s no secret that trust in our society is at an all-time low. As we work to come together with partners, farmers and leaders across the entire food chain, I was reminded while in Washington about the power of personal interaction – a handshake or a smile to help build trust and strengthen connections between partners and among stakeholders.

But what does effective, trust-building communication look like when in-person interaction isn’t possible? As Hot, Hungry Planet author Lisa Palmer noted: “If you want to build trust… to me, it's thinking through who's telling your story… People don't distrust farmers… your story has to be told from the [farmers perspective] … I think that's where you have to focus if you're going to build new trust.” A good reminder for all of us working in agriculture.

3. We’ve got to keep the conversation going – at every level.

Though we operate in an ever-globalizing marketplace, we know that farming will always be a local business. As John Buchanan of Conservation International put it during our roundtable event “the conversation needs to happen at multiple levels… not just in Washington but also Brasilia, Iowa or Kansas.”

Our communications must be informed by ongoing dialogue at the local and community level, everywhere we are working. It´s all about understanding the different needs and perspectives as we join forces that will ultimately help develop and deliver the right solutions and create a real impact.

And, certainly, nobody can do it alone. I was struck by a concept presented by Harvard Business School Professor Robert Kaplan who spoke at our Alliance launch about creating “inclusive growth ecosystems” to help increase profitable food production among smallholder communities. Increasingly, inclusion and partnership will be critical for our industry and all of our stakeholders.

Because, after all, it will be up to all of us, together, to guarantee a future with more, healthy food – grown from a healthier planet – for all.

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Raquel Almeida BR
June 14, 2018 - 11:21 AM

I just loved the 3 Important Lessons!!! Those lessons can be used in every aspect of our lives. :-)

Thank you for sharing.

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