John Ellenberger

A Fortune 200 co-op's unique ally in global food security

John Ellenberger: Land O'Lakes International Development is Feeding Human Progress

I knew that my move last year from the U.S. Dairy Foods team to lead the Land O’Lakes International Development organization would be a big change. After all, the International Development organization is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with nearly 40 years of experience in the global development sector –- a brave new world for me as a leader.

I knew that International Development would be different! And after my first year here, I’ve found it is -- and it isn’t.

After (many) years in the consumer foods business, I became very familiar with the steps needed to grow: know your customers and competitors deeply, segment your markets, design and deliver innovative products and experiences, tailor your communications, price and promote your products smartly, invest some of your profits back into the business for future growth. The approach was the same, be it butter or cheese. Retail or foodservice. LAND O LAKES or Kozy Shack pudding.

You need similar approaches for economic and business growth in International Development.

International Development empowers

The (wonderful and inspiring) purpose statement for Land O’Lakes, Inc. is Feeding Human Progress. I feel the work of the affiliated International Development organization fulfills on that purpose in an authentic way: We unlock the power of agriculture to empower the developing world.

The International Development team does this by bringing creative, innovative ideas and approaches to help farmers and agribusinesses in developing countries around the world (we’ve been in 80 of them since our founding in 1981!) produce more, sell more and earn more.

International development work is a way to work together for a community’s prosperity. We help people and communities find sustainable ways to feed their animals better, produce more milk, raise more crops, improve food safety and quality, form co-ops and other groups to leverage their power, reach new markets, partner with governments and with other private sector members to maximize their potential.

And while the scale and context of our development work differs from that of most U.S. agriculture operations, many of the concepts to build a community and nation’s economy are the same.

And who better to lean on for expertise than a Fortune 200 U.S.-based cooperative?

Hand Holding A Fall Army Worm

Changing the world by working together

We’re finding ways to bring the best of Land O’Lakes, Inc. commercial businesses -- its people, technologies, partners -- into the work the International Development team is doing in sub-Saharan Africa.

One example is our support for the United State Agency for International Development (USAID) Feed the Future Fall Armyworm Tech Prize contest. The Fall Armyworm is a fast-moving pest that has the potential to endanger a significant percentage of crops grown in Africa.

USAID has announced a contest seeking the best digitally-based ideas to help identify, track and treat this pest in fields across the continent. Land O’Lakes International Development is providing supplemental financial support for the Tech Prize, but is also engaging Winfield United Ag Tech expert, Joel Wipperfurth, to take part in idea advancement and judging of the contestants. Joel will also look for ways to lever the Ag Tech “ecosystem” of partners, suppliers and customers to help bring these emerging ideas to scale faster and more effectively.

Our commitment to the USAID Fall Armyworm Tech Prize echoes Land O’Lakes Inc.’s enterprise purpose of Feeding Human Progress and the belief that improving food security for the soon-to-be ten billion people on the planet is both a moral imperative and a business opportunity.

Land O’Lakes first got into the “development business” nearly 40 years ago because cooperative farmer-owners saw the need in developing countries and knew they could help. Along the way, we’ve learned much about the countries in which we’ve worked by collaborating on a local and global scale, and those insights have helped global businesses make smart investments in fast-growing African markets.

Successful, lasting investments in development are often created when we connect projects to private sector partners -- be they local companies in Africa, global enterprises or, in our case, Land O’Lakes, Inc. itself.

It's up to all of us

The challenge of feeding the future is one that will take passionate people, inspired ideas, and tireless persistence.

As a nonprofit agricultural development expert, Land O’Lakes International Development has all of these, along with a willingness to work with any and all players who are ready to take on the challenge with us!