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Transforming Global Food Systems Equitably & Sustainably Requires the Private Sector

A farmer works in a rice field in Bagré, Burkina Faso. Credit: FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

NEW JERSEY, USA, Sep 30 2021 (IPS) - In the days following the UN Food Systems Summit I have read a number or articles questioning whether there is a role for the private sector in transforming global food systems into something healthier, more sustainable and more equitable. Frankly, I don’t see how food systems transformation is possible without meaningful participation of the private sector.

The theme of each of these articles is that the ‘private sector created the food systems challenges and consequently has no role in discussing and executing potential solutions’.

In a world that is becoming more divisive every day, this type of exclusionary sentiment will not lead to the collaboration and cooperation we so desperately need if we are to collectively work towards results – not rhetoric.

The United Nations has projected that the world’s population is expected to swell to 9.8 billion by 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100. According to The World Health Organization in 2020, it was estimated that a staggering 811 million people or approximately a tenth of the global population were undernourished.

Our existing food system is already under tremendous pressure and showing signs of distress from the effects of climate change on agricultural production and environmental degradation of the land and oceans. A new approach to providing healthy nutrition and tackling climate change is urgently needed.

So, what does food system transformation look like?

One such example is Africa Improved Foods (‘AIF’), a company that is a unique partnership between DSM* and quasi-public sector partners. In collaboration with the Government of Rwanda, AIF has become a trusted Africa-based producer of high-quality fortified porridge to address childhood stunting in Rwanda, have an African source of nutritious food for the WFP, and a product sold commercially in regional retail outlets.

The Kigali based operation provides good jobs, and sources key raw materials such as maize and soy from regional small holder farmers, the majority of which are women owned enterprises. Overall, AIF sources materials from over 130,000 farmers in Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, DRC and Kenya. In Rwanda alone, AIF sources directly from 45,000 farmers.

This is not philanthropy, to be sustainable operations like AIF must be profitable. To be transformative, operations like AIF must focus on creating local jobs, helping local farmers, and producing high quality nutritious food for the local community. To be impactful, innovation like AIF must be scalable – and the AIF model is replicable throughout the world with the right public and private partners supporting.

This model offers a potential solution to the tragedy of malnutrition and food insecurity. It also, importantly, spurs local economic growth and social stability through the creation of a manufacturing base and jobs, improves the lives of small holder farmers by creating a predictable market for their crops and encourages the use of practices to address issues like aflatoxin. It also offers communities and aid organizations alike an opportunity to source from Africa for Africa, perpetuating a virtuous cycle of healthy development.

We also recognize the connection between climate change and nutrition, and the need to address both. While continuing to work on more sustainable and nutritious plant-based proteins, we recognize that demand for animal protein will only continue to grow as the global population grows and grows wealthier.

Extensive research has indicated that we will need to double production of animal protein to meet the anticipated demand, however, herein lies yet another challenge – according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, cattle are responsible for 65% of the livestock sector’s greenhouse emissions globally.

Methane is a short-lived but potent greenhouse gas with a warming effect 28 times greater than that of carbon dioxide. Ruminants, such as cattle, cows and sheep emit methane gases contributing to climate change. We need to make the production of animal protein more sustainable and a key will be private sector innovation.

One example is DSM’s Bovaer® feed additive which can reduce methane emissions from ruminants by up to 80%. This safe and effective feed additive can lead to the immediate reduction of enteric methane emissions at a time when we need meaningful, scalable and affordable solutions to the climate emergency NOW.

These are two simple examples of private sector contributions to food systems transformation. DSM has committed to reaching 800 million suffering from micronutrient deficiency, reaching 150 million people with plant-based proteins, helping 500 million improve their immunity through nutrition, reducing livestock emissions by double digits, and helping at least 500,000 small holder farmers enjoy a sustainable livelihood – all by 2030.

These are our Food System Commitments and we look forward to working with all stakeholders to achieve them. We ask the critics of the private sector– we hear what you say but what are you committed to do?

Hugh Welsh is President and General Counsel of DSM North America. DSM is no longer an acronym – it’s a stand alone.


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