Sam Dryden, an investor and entrepreneur, was named the Gates Foundation's new director of agricultural development today.

Sam Dryden, an investor and entrepreneur, was named the Gates Foundation’s new director of agricultural development today.

Dryden, a managing director of New York-based Wolfensohn & Company, an investment company, will begin the new post on Feb. 1. He replaces Dr. Rajiv Shah, who was sworn in Thursday as the administrator for USAID.

“Sam brings a wealth of experience to the foundation — not only in agriculture, research and business, but also in a wide variety of projects related to agricultural development and public-private partnerships,” said Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of the foundation’s Global Development Program. “His strong leadership qualities will help the team deliver on our strategy to help small farmers improve their lives.”

In his new position, Dryden will lead a team attempting to help the world’s poorest farming families boost productivity and incomes with better seeds, management training, access to markets and effective policies. The foundation, which has targeted agricultural improvements as one of its core missions, has committed $1.4 billion to agricultural development initiatives in Africa and South Asia.

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Dryden has written and lectured widely on food security and economic development issues and served as an adviser on rural development for the World Bank and the Rockefeller Foundation.

At Wolfensohn, which was founded by former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, Dryden focused on investments in alternative energies. He formerly headed Emergent Genetics, which develops and markets seeds. Emergent Genetics, the third largest cotton seed company in the U.S., was acquired by Monsanto in 2005 in a $300 million deal.

The foundation’s choice of Dryden raises a red flag for organizations that advocate against genetically modified crops, Bill Freese, science policy analyst for the Center on Food Safety, told the AP.

“Appointing someone like this as head of their agriculture project is a bad sign,” Freese said.

Dryden has also been president and chief executive of Agrigenetics, a seed company now part of Dow AgroSciences, and was founder of Big Stone, a private venture and development company. His career began as an analyst with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Dryden has 25 years of experience as an investor and entrepreneur in the life sciences. He has served on a number of international boards and commissions focused on agriculture development, economic development and food security.