Entrepreneurship, technology … and agriculture?Waldemar Ramírez, San Juan Daily Sun
April 25 2010
First of all, and for the sake of the reflections presented in this article, let’s agree on a couple of definitions:
n Entrepreneurship: The willingness and ability of an individual to seek investment opportunities to successfully establish and run an enterprise.
n Technology: The process by which humans modify nature to meet their needs and wants, including all of the infrastructure necessary for the design, manufacture, operation, and renovation of those solutions. It is a product of engineering and science, that is, it results from the study of the natural world.
That settled, and as I have shared before, I must confess it is very disappointing to confront the lack of attention that the formula of “entrepreneurship + technology” is receiving in our country as a possible spearhead to break our economic stagnation. Even at this stage in the 21st century, the government of Puerto Rico’s so-called “strategic model for a new economy” (MENE, by its Spanish acronym) timidly proposes a “transition to the knowledge-based economy” — a paradigm and a conversation that is already over 20 year old!
In an environment of overstretched public service, the self-employed nature of entrepreneurs would be an obvious path of economic development to follow. But, furthermore, entrepreneurs are not just self-employed, they are cost-efficient job creators. As described by management guru Peter Drucker, an entrepreneur is a person who perceives business opportunities and takes advantage of the scarce resources using them profitably.
It would seem that we are stalled awaiting for Obamic solutions, that we don’t dare to formulate our own answers. We have enough elements to successfully pursue high-tech niches related to bio-sciences and computing, among others. We have an enviable pool of experienced managers and technology professionals, world-class researchers, and academic institutions with strictly accredited curricula. And we know the markets that are seeking solutions to their big challenges in aforementioned areas. If anything, we may need to foster a culture that facilitates and supports the specific conditions to strengthen our ecosystem so that innovation and technological development are the everyday and not the exception.
The E+T+A formula
Furthermore, this formula of “entrepreneurship + technology” has another facet we have so far totally ignored. I’m referring to agro-entrepreneurship development. We are still dealing with agriculture as some sort of melancholic theme, an artisanal endeavor evocative of something precious already lost. The aforementioned MENE presents an objective aimed at revitalizing agriculture, but that’s as far as it goes. The MENE’s stated goal is creating 260,000 jobs between now and 2017. And the catalog of strategic initiatives identified and to be funded by the government to create these jobs, does not include anything pertaining to agriculture.
Now, is agro-entrepreneurship development a real option, or is it just a quixotic proposition? … The University of Puerto Rico’s School of Agricultural Science, which came into existence in 1911, has a staff of educators and researchers with an extraordinary preparation and experience. They offer programs in food science and technology, agricultural economics and agrobusiness, livestock industry, agricultural and bio-systems engineering, crops protection and agro-environmental science. The school campus provides a unique setting in a privileged position to serve as an international center for studies, training, and research in the fields of agricultural sciences. Does the government intend to use this asset to boost our economy? Has this even been considered? Are we interested in getting a greater return on the investment this college represents?
The new opportunity
In fact, the so-called knowledge-based economy represents great opportunities for the formulation of a new agriculture. To enable and promote this we could capitalize on biotechnology, starting from possible applications such as genetic improvement of plants and animals, diagnosis and control of pests and diseases, and the use of plants as soil decontaminants. In spite of some controversies between hardcore environmentalists and proponents of biotechnology applications to agriculture, evidence indicates that the newer techniques offered by these applications are more precise and more predictable — and yield a more useful product. In fact, genetic engineering, the newest manifestation of biotechnology, is indeed a refinement of less precise methods of genetic modification that have been applied for centuries. Genetically engineered plants permit more efficient water usage and encourage wider use of environmentally friendly cultivation, decreasing soil erosion and releasing less CO2 into the atmosphere
Similarly, we could take advantage of our expertise in information and communication technologies to transform agriculture processes into a highly efficient and productive endeavor. The increased yields —offered by both biotechnology and information technology applications — are environmentally important because they avoid the need to increase the amount of land put under cultivation. Any innovation that decreases agricultural “inputs” — the factors that contribute to the costs of food production — benefits everyone involved in the path, from the soil to the dinner plate.
An additional definition…
In light of the previous discussion, let’s consider an additional definition to go with those of Entrepreneurship and Technology provided earlier.
n A new agriculture: The sustainable practice of cultivating the soil, producing crops, raising livestock and preparing and marketing the resulting products, obtained through a coordination of policies addressing the following elements:
n a research agenda supporting the interdisciplinary science approach needed;
n an extension (or transfer) plan supporting the transition from the lab into sustainable agriculture;
n an incentives program to support agro-entrepreneurs who do take steps to redesign their operations to leverage on technology and eliminate environmental damage; and
n a marketing policy that will inform consumers and remove barriers faced by entrepreneurs eager to find and exploit new opportunities.
So, the question is: Can we afford to ignore this opportunity? Do we need to wait until some federal program pushes us into that direction, or can we initiate a genuine effort now?
___________________________________The author is Principal Executive of Integrant Consulting Associates (www.integrantconsulting.com), a firm dedicated to facilitate superior performance levels in leaders and enterprises. You can contact him at email@example.com .