Calls for greater collaboration to tackle food security

By Lisa Cornish 11 August 2015

Youth is key to the future of innovation and development in food security. Photo by: Neil Palmer / CIAT / CC BY-NC-SA

Agriculture and food security experts have an appeal to governments, nongovernmental organizations, the private sector, research institutes and consumers: work together to deliver sustainable food security solutions for the world.

The Crawford Fund’s 2015 Annual Parliamentary Conference, with the theme of “The Business of Food Security,” gathered agricultural researchers, private industry and government together at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, to discuss the future of world security.

“It will take ambitious, game-changing action by all of us,” Gerda Verburg, chair of the U.N. Committee on World Food Security and of the World Economic Forum Council on Food Security and Nutrition, said in her address to conference participants. “We can disrupt hunger and malnutrition forever.”

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With her experience showing a multifaceted approach is critical in solving food security issues, Verburg called for a range of sectors, including water, climate change and health experts, to work together to tackle the problems.

“Working together we can achieve more than we can apart,” she said.

Her rallying cry set the tone for the rest of the conference, with speakers urging for more cross-sector collaboration and greater investment in innovation and research to deliver sustainable food solutions for 2050 and beyond.

Growing demand for change within the private sector

Anthony Pratt, executive chairman of packaging manufacturer Visy Industries, said there was growing demand among their clients for sustainable solutions and increased innovation in food production.

“It’s about creating a better world for everyone,” he said.

He said that waste reduction, including water reuse and recycling, were just some of the solutions his company had implemented to create more sustainable options in food manufacturing. And a new packaging center of excellence in India, announced at the conference, would help the South Asian country implement manufacturing changes to reduce waste and improve the quality of food on the market.

Martin Kropff, director general of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, or CIMMYT, said there were many benefits to the private sector for increased engagement in food security programs. This included access to farmers, increased influence in the development of legal and regulatory regimes and improved corporate profiles.

“But we need industry linked with NGOs and other organizations,” he said.

Matt Willson, national manager of corporate partnerships with the World Wildlife Fund, supported the call for greater collaboration between NGOs and the private sector in food security.

“Partnerships between unlike entities deliver better outcomes,” he said, adding that NGOs have proven themselves to be influential in creating social change on issues, such as sustainable farming, and by working with the private sector, they can initiate change.

From the speakers the message was clear: Private sector engagement was important in food security, particularly in scaling up, but this sector was needed in association with government, NGOs, research institutes and more.

Partnerships need to be clear, simple and align with governments

When it comes to developing sustainable agriculture partnerships in Indonesia, simplicity is key, said Lim Jung Lee, president director of Syngenta Indonesia. Clear roles were needed for each partner, who must share common goals and believe in the work.

“When we choose partners, it is important to work with believers — they make things happen,” he said. Choosing the wrong partner or working in a competitive environment will doom a project to failure.

But for the private sector, Lee said it was important that their work in food security is built around the goals and objectives of the government rather than work in competition.

Richard Dickmann, head of new business at Bayer CropScience, said it was becoming easier for the private sector to partner with and engage governments on food security projects.

“Five to 10 years ago it was very difficult,” he said. “But there has been a shift in change around the globe and things are changing.”

Working with government may initially slow down progress, Verburg said, but it was a necessary part of the process.

“Once trust is there, things speed up because you can rely on each other,” she said.

Developing the next generation of future food security experts

Government would also need to play an increasing role in an issue highlighted at the conference — getting young people interested in farming and agricultural science. Young people are essential to the future of innovation and development in food security.

With farmers aging globally and youth unemployment a growing government concern, Verburg said encouraging young people to become the new generation of farmers and driving change in agricultural production will lead to a brighter future for food security.

Dickmann expressed concern about the lack of interest in studying agriculture and focusing on a career in research.

“We need to build capacity,” he said. “We need the best and brightest to solve food security issues.”

Australia’s critical role for the future

But Australia also has an important role to play in future food security efforts, according to the speakers.

“Australia might not become the food bowl of Asia, but it can be an engine of collaborative effort,” said Jessica Ramsden, corporate and government affairs manager at Elanco.

Australia has a wealth of agricultural knowledge to export to its neighbors, Verburg said. Its experience farming in arid environments and producing quality products was critical to its neighbors, especially with Pacific countries demanding more nutritious products to target the growing health problems of obesity and diabetes.

In his address, Steve Ciobo, parliamentary secretary to the foreign affairs minister, said the Australian government was working with both the private sector and NGOs to deliver more innovative and sustainable solutions, which would be critical to Australia’s aid program going forward, saying the partnerships will “address the global challenge in years ahead.”

“Food security of one of the most important issues facing the world,” he said.

Ciobo highlighted the work the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research was doing with Mars in Indonesia to improve the quality of cocoa farming while reducing its environmental impact and said the private sector had already invested more than $3 million in food security programs within the Asia-Pacific region, with expansions already planned.

“Agriculture is a key pathway to increased prosperity,” he said, adding that the Australian aid program would continue to work with the private sector and other partners to identify new agricultural markets.

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About the author

Cornish img
Lisa Cornish@lisa_cornish

Lisa Cornish is a freelance data journalist based in Canberra, Australia. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane and online through Lisa has recently been awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.

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