Feeding a hungry world will not succeed without the cooperation of all agricultural stakeholders: large and small. No industry requires a more transformational shift than the agricultural sector: after all, the planet needs to be able to feed a projected nine billion people by 2050. Food companies will most likely confront the challenge of securing more sustainable and transparent supply chains as consumers in established and emerging markets are more concerned about the origins of food products. Meanwhile, regions of the world now more integral to global food production, such as Africa and Latin America, are home to millions of small holder farmers that large multinational companies cannot simply dismiss. Climate change, diminishing resources and the emerging middle class’ demand for higher quality food ingredients will vex both businesses and governments in the decades ahead.
The problems seem too complex for one stakeholder group to take on alone. As Fred Luckey, Chairman of Field to Market (a multi-stakeholder alliance of agribusinesses, food companies and conservation organizations) observed: “The bottom line is, without all the involved supply chain and expert parties at the table we can’t reach actionable consensus. And, without consensus we can’t make progress.” Multinational organizations are uniquely positioned to compare and contrast best practices across the world, while governments generally have more of a local orientation. Margaret Zeigler, Executive Director of the Global Harvest Initiative, an alliance of multinationals and large NGOs, noted that much of the world still relies on small farmers and they cannot be left out of the conversation. They face challenges to their land tenure during the current “global land rush”, are in need of innovative mechanizations for harvesting their crops, and are struggling to find labor as younger generations move to cities, according to Zeigler. “As a private sector industry, we have to talk more about adapting to the needs of small holder farmers,” she added, emphasizing that, of the 500 million small farmers worldwide, 43 percent of them are women and they are particularly vulnerable to agriculture’s changing landscape.
Changes within the global agricultural system will require everyone within the agricultural supply chain to produce more with less. Monsanto Company is one company working proactively with stakeholders to find new ways to increase crop yields while reducing land, energy and water usage. “Companies like ours are uniquely positioned to impact sustainability and food security”, said Stephanie Regagnon, Monsanto’s Director of Sustainable Agricultural Portfolio. Nevertheless these companies, even with their knowledge and experience, must collaborate with other stakeholder groups in order to enhance the world’s food security, build stakeholder trust and bolster agricultural supply chains. An example of such cooperation is Water-Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), a public-private partnership that is focused on developing and distributing drought-resistant and pest tolerant seeds, royalty-free, to farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.
Former US Under-secretary of Agriculture, Thomas Dorr, emphasized the need for nations to revamp their food production systems. According to Dorr, the American agricultural model is a success story in many ways. It evolved over decades and was fuelled by domestic demand and a focus on commodities such as wheat, corn and livestock. For Dorr, the issue is that “as these emerging middle class economies grow, they don’t have time or capacity to build a commodity-driven system. But they will have resources to secure what they cannot produce”. It would be helpful if governments would ensure more thoughtful trade policies to develop opportunities so that countries can feed their people while creating other crops to export to other markets. Plus the same governments would do well to ensure a strong legal system so that the same small land holders’ property rights are secure.