AUTHOR’S PERSONAL STORY I was born in tobacco country, in Robertson County, Kentucky. My family lived on Pea Ridge, and our nearest neighbor lived on the next ridge over, in hollering distance, but no closer. Once a week, the huckster came along Bee Lick Road and stopped to barter with my mother and father, though they didn’t have much basis for negotiation. He was the only game in town, and they usually took what he offered. During harvest, I’d cut tobacco all day long for a penny a stick, and I still have the scars to prove it. When I was old enough, I hung around the barbershop sitting on top of a Coca-Cola crate talking with volunteers from a government antipoverty program. The ones who listened actually helped us. The ones who wanted to lecture us, we just hoped they’d get out without hurting themselves. Through the same antipoverty program, I went to the local community college, and eventually to a four-year college. My goal was to get as far away from farming as possible. As luck would have it, though, my career gradually led me back to agriculture. As the chief executive officer of an agricultural biotechnology company, and later as a philanthropist in agricultural development, I always paid attention to the lesson I learned as a boy: that listening is the most important part of understanding.
Sam Dryden is a Senior Fellow at Imperial College London and the former Director of Agricultural Development for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation