Notable advocate and thought leader in global food and nutrition security Sam Dryden passed away on August 10, 2017, at age 67. A native of eastern Kentucky, Dryden was considered one of the world’s most powerful figures in agriculture, working in food security, agriculture, and economic development for both agribusiness and the public sector.
Dryden began his career in economic development, agriculture, and technology, developing and investing in agricultural research and technological ventures. He led Emergent Genetics, Inc., a seed development and marketing company, acted as CEO of seed company Agrigenetics Corporation, and founded venture and development company Big Stone, Inc.
Having “written and lectured widely on food security and economic development,” Dryden was appointed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as Director of Agricultural Development in 2010. He was tasked with leading “a foundation team dedicated to helping millions of the world’s poorest farming families boost their productivity and increase their incomes through investments in better seeds, farm management training.”
Dryden’s subsistence farming upbringing and unique experiences lent themselves to examining the world’s food challenges through the lenses of both agribusiness executives and smallholder farmers. Dryden had particular interest in improving the lives of smallholder farmers in Asia and Africa.
Reflecting on his Gates Foundation post in 2014, Dryden emphasized the importance of context-appropriate solutions, “not those imposed by distant values of interests.” In an interview with the Guardian in 2012, Dryden alluded to the power of the context in which small farmers work saying, “no one knows [their] lives better than they do. I can’t put myself in their shoes. You have to respect others. They may have to live that life but you can make it better…you can’t tell them what to do.”
The approach for agricultural development he labeled “so robust” was one “based on poverty alleviation…focused on rural poor, and mostly women.”
Attempting to bring a more focused approach to the Gates Foundation strategy, Dryden pushed for “investment in traditional breeding and especially in the ‘orphan’ or staple crops like sorghum, millet, and cassava,” crops ignored by many large agricultural companies.
A blog post by Bill and Melinda Gates from the evening of Dryden’s death remarks, “Sam’s generosity as a friend and mentor to us and countless others was legendary,” and thanks Dryden “for what we learned from him, for the impact his work had on millions.”
Dryden served in a variety of other influential public-sector positions within the global agricultural community, including with the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), World Bank, the United States board of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, the National Academies Roundtable on Science and Technology for Global Sustainability, The Rockefeller Foundation, and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation.
Dryden was awarded the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) Hunger Hero Award in 2014 for his leadership in addressing challenges to solving global hunger.