UPL CEO Jai Shroff Highlights Tech in Sustainable Agriculture Amid Growing Climate Change Threats
Asia Society at Home
HOUSTON, August 13, 2021 — Asia Society Texas Center (ASTC) opened its fall programming with a webcast in partnership with Asia Society India and the Harvard Business School Club of Houston. Jai Shroff, Global CEO of UPL Limited, a leader in global agribusiness, spoke in conversation with Martyn E. Goossen, J.P. Morgan Private Bank Vice Chairman and ASTC Vice Chair, on the threats of climate change to food security and sustainability, and how UPL hopes to address those concerns through investment in agricultural technology.
The history of Jai Shroff and UPL
Shroff began with his personal story, sharing that he grew up in Mumbai learning the family business from an early age from his father. Because Shroff’s father wanted to take more risks, he spun out United Phosphorous Limited (UPL) as his own small business in 1969. According to Shroff, his father was a technologist who began by focusing on the needs of the Indian market; however, by the 1980s the company, having realized the opportunities offered by the global market, began reducing dependence on imports and investing in the chemical industry with a focus on agrichemicals.
In the 2000s, Shroff said the company transitioned from business-to-business (B2B) to directly serving customers (B2C) with focus on new IP and patents, and grew its global footprint with over 50 acquisitions over the past 25 years. Though Shroff took over formally as CEO in 2007, he said he has always been involved in running the international business.
UPL’s goals and open ag
According to Shroff, UPL’s current focus is on considering the impacts of climate on agriculture, and how to build sustainability in the industry to ensure food security. He explained that the problem lies in two contrary needs: to produce more food for a growing world population while also needing to decarbonize and conserve forested land. The question, for Shroff, is how to both optimize the productivity of agriculture and reduce costs for the farmer — and the answer is to promote and invest in resilience for farmers. For UPL, this has meant new technology that takes into consideration climate change: for example, bioengineered seeds that can grow reliably despite increasingly unpredictable weather events such as droughts or floods.
UPL’s approach to increasing sustainable agricultural technology is to welcome open collaboration to combat the consolidation in the industry. In Shroff’s view, linking farms to people working in ag-tech will promote more innovation and better understanding of the needs of farmers. He noted UPL’s presence across the globe including a biotech center at Texas A&M University as well as a new OpenAg Center in North Carolina, and partnership with farms in Brazil as well as the World Economic Forum’s Grow Africa and Grow Asia initiatives.
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Social good and shaping the future
For Shroff, UPL’s investment in the future goes beyond investment in agribusiness. The company’s most recent annual report included nonfinancial goals such as enhancing food security, enhancing sustainability sourcing, and strengthening community relations. Shroff shared that UPL is actively a socially conscious company, recently ranked second most charitable company in India, and its leadership teams are encouraged to be involved in their local communities. He pointed out that it rebounds to UPL in the form of more retained talent and more trust among the farmers the company works with.
With climate change representing the foremost threat to farmers and the future of food, Shroff underlined the need to ensure that food systems are more sustainable. Shroff estimated there are approximately a billion farmers across the globe, and seven out of 10 of those farmers use UPL products. “Thirty percent of the decarbonization of the world can happen just through reward and recognition of the food systems,” he said. “And that is much more sustainable than any other discussions right now.”
Business and Policy programs are endowed by Huffington Foundation. We give special thanks to Bank of America, Muffet Blake, Anne and Albert Chao, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Nancy Pollok Guinee, and United Airlines, Presenting Sponsors of Business and Policy programs; Nancy C. Allen, Chinhui Juhn and Eddie Allen, and Leslie and Brad Bucher, Presenting Sponsors of Exhibitions; AARP and Sterling Turner Foundation, Presenting Sponsors of Education & Outreach; and Mitsubishi Corporation (Americas), Presenting Sponsor of the Japan Series. General support of programs and exhibitions is provided by The Brown Foundation, Inc., The Hearst Foundation, Inc., Houston Endowment, Inc., the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance, McKinsey & Company, Inc., National Endowment for the Arts, Texas Commission on the Arts, and Vinson & Elkins LLP, as well as Friends of Asia Society.
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We are dedicated to continuing our mission of building cross-cultural understanding and uplifting human connectivity. Using digital tools, we bring you content for all ages and conversations that matter, in order to spark curiosity about Asia and to foster empathy.
About Asia Society Texas Center
With 13 locations throughout the world, Asia Society is the leading educational organization promoting mutual understanding and strengthening partnerships among the peoples, leaders, and institutions of Asia and West. Asia Society Texas Center executes the global mission with a local focus, enriching and engaging the vast diversity of Houston through innovative, relevant programs in arts and culture, business and policy, education, and community outreach.
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