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Feeding the world in 2050

The goal of achieving food and nutrition security for all remains a daunting one (© FAO/Astrid Randen)
The goal of achieving food and nutrition security for all remains a daunting one
© FAO/Astrid Randen

With the global population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, the goal of achieving food and nutrition security for all remains a daunting one. In February 2012, the Economist Group held an inaugural Feeding the World summit in Geneva, featuring progressive thinkers from agribusiness, policy, science and international development. One focus was the role of the private sector in building and strengthening the entire food production chain from field to fork, including support for the world's smallholder farmers and the pro-poor research agenda.

Participants were also invited to share their views with New Agriculturist on a number of questions concerning public and private sector contributions to global food security. These included the potential and challenges offered by public-private partnerships, key contributions required from the private sector, and the role of governments in creating an enabling environment for agricultural development and trade. Here follows a selection of their views.

Changing role of private sector

In the last couple of years, the private sector has really come to grasp its responsibility about sustainable production. They realise that it's not just about profits and it's not just about keeping shareholders happy. It's really about having a licence to produce and being acceptable in society and investing in the long term.
Louise Fresco, Professor, University of Amsterdam

Infrastructure, open markets, access to capital, research and development; up until about two years ago these were seen as the realm of governments. But now the private sector has seen that it is also their responsibility, both in actual investment and in creating the enabling environment.
Carel van der Hamsvoort, Global Head of the Food and Agribusiness Research and Advisory department, Rabobank

The private sector I think is today seen as part of the solution; ten to fifteen years ago it was seen by some people as part of the problem.
Paul Conway, Vice Chairman, Cargill

In the past, building only on the public sector we have not been efficient and we have not been able to meet the challenge of food security all over the world. We have to build on another method, which we have tried to apply within the G20, based on the very strong cooperation between the public sector on one side and the private sector on the other side.
Bruno Le Maire, Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, France

Key contributions of private sector

As a private sector member, one of the key areas we are focussed on is science. So how do we advance science to come up with great products and how do we help farmers or food companies to put these to use in a way that really makes a difference?
Jim Borel, Executive Vice President, DuPont

From a private sector perspective, what we can bring to the table is solutions and commercial expertise. We work directly with farmers so it's helpful to be able to think like a farmer; to recognise their needs and invest in the research and development and in market based solutions.
Kavita Prakash-Mani, Head of Food Security Agenda, Syngenta

Greater funding is needed for agricultural research (© FAO/Olivier Asselin)
Greater funding is needed for agricultural research
© FAO/Olivier Asselin

To raise agricultural productivity, greater funding is needed for agricultural research and the development and transfer of appropriate technologies to farmers, integrated with traditional knowledge and capacity-building. Private companies are an important actor of international agricultural research, especially since funding for national agricultural research centres has been decreasing over the past two decades.
Morgane Danielou, Private Sector Representative, UN Committee on World Food Security

The private sector plays a critical role because the investments by governments in the international research system - the CGIAR system - are tremendously underfunded. So the investments from private industry that go all the way down to train farmers to produce the higher quality products are tremendously important.
Nina V. Fedoroff, Professor of Life Sciences, Pennsylvania State University

We are in the middle of a huge financial and economic crisis. There is a lack of public funding and we need the financial support of the private sector. We need the support of the private laboratories, private companies and private research, otherwise we run the risk of not having the right solutions to this challenge of food security.
Bruno Le Maire

Serving the needs of smallholders

The private sector needs to adopt and communicate a clear and long term corporate vision promoting local purchases from smallholders, backed up by corporate policies, actions and investments that include appropriate agricultural research and extension services.
Denise C Coitinho Delmuè, Executive Secretary, UN Standing Committee on Nutrition

To increase productivity on all farms, especially smallholder farms, we will need more training, better inputs, access to finance, access to better storage and transport, better prices for crops, information etc. Companies from different sectors need to all play their part.
Kavita Prakash-Mani

Smallholder farmers need improved access to markets (© FAO/Ami Vitale)
Smallholder farmers need improved access to markets
© FAO/Ami Vitale

The private sector is doing a lot to invest in issues of quality that will also benefit the poor. There is a scale neutrality to some innovations. For example, developing a better quality tomato that doesn't perish as quickly is useful for poor and for big farmers.
Louise Fresco

One of the most important things for smallholder farmers is access to information. Farmers are beginning to get downloads of weather and market information on their phones and they are getting better access to pricing.
Jim Borel

Smallholder farmers need improved access to markets, the adaptation and adoption of appropriate technologies, institutional innovations and improved access to natural, financial, social and human capital. The private sector can provide farmers of all sizes access to the things they need to produce a crop, such as the best-adapted inputs, technologies, knowledge, credit, and a market.
Morgane Danielou

Public-private partnerships - challenges and potential

We need compromise and collaboration because the private sector wants profit, governments want to advance social equity and development, and farmers want to increase their income; but to make all of this happen there needs to be compromise in order to have real and meaningful partnerships.
Jikun Huang, Director, Centre for Agricultural Policy, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Public-private partnerships are tremendously important, but they are very difficult in part because the philosophies of the public and private organisations are fundamentally different. I think that it's clear the private sector, at least in the agricultural area, is moving towards the philanthropic mindset but I don't see that the public sector is sufficiently recognising that successful, sustainable businesses right down to the farmer level are what they should be creating.
Nina V. Fedoroff

Successful implementation of extension services hinges on available funds (© FAO/Noah Seelam)
Successful implementation of extension services hinges on available funds
© FAO/Noah Seelam

Many big companies are already seeking alliances with research organisations, with extension services and so on and in combination with government. Nestlé for example is setting up supply chains in emerging economies. In Pakistan, Nestlé invested in refrigerated tanks in over 3,000 villages. That's a private initiative in an area that people thought was the realm of government.
Carel van der Hamsvoort

Effective partnerships between and among governments, the private sector and civil society are particularly useful in addressing complex and inter-related challenges. Such partnerships have proven vital in areas where no single actor can successfully address an issue on its own, such as rural infrastructure, which is a necessary component to allow farmers to have market access.
Morgane Danielou

Creating an enabling environment for food production

In the end it's the private sector that produces food but it's very important that governments provide the legal framework for good food to be produced.
Louise Fresco

The most important role of government is to create the right environment and that starts with a subsistence farmer with clear property rights. To get farmers from being a subsistence farmer into being an agribusiness person will need some support. After that it's clear regulation. In some cases it's infrastructure, education and extension services, and in some cases it's public sector research and development.
Paul Conway

The private sector does not need direct financing. It needs other players to play their part and create an enabling environment that addresses the critical barriers that curtail agricultural growth. This includes developing the right regulatory policies that encourage and reward innovation and business engagement, the investment in infrastructure such as roads, a well functioning and fair financial market, investment in basic education and health, and investment in agricultural R&D.
Kavita Prakash-Mani

The private sector help provide access to inputs, better prices and markets to help improve smallholder productivity (© FAO/Alessandra Benedetti)
The private sector help provide access to inputs, better prices and markets to help improve smallholder productivity
© FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

Key public incentives to make these partnerships work are to have national and local governments invest in infrastructure such as roads, cell phone masts, and related underpinnings. Skills development among smallholder farmers is a good candidate to be subsidized through public efforts, NGOs, or outsourcing. Fundamentally, governments must also offer a social protection floor so subsistence farmers can effectively engage and have the most basic capital resources.
Morgane Danielou

What the government needs to do is create an environment for companies to invest in; for example you can give tax exemptions, you can give subsidies to bridge towards an open economy. I think the other role is to create open markets and liberate trade. It's very important to produce the food where we can do this in the most efficient way, and without open markets this is not going to happen.
Carel van der Hamsvoort

Date published: March 2012


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