Hunger issues draw different collaborations

by Morton Sosland
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It may be easy, but it also should be instructive to try to identify the reasons world hunger problems have captured center stage where so many newer and equally important issues are almost neglected. The United Nations (UN) has assigned priority to resolving issues dealing with the adequacy of the food supply. The UN has convened special sessions focused on this one issue, almost relegating to secondary status matters like climate change, nuclear threats, fighting within and between nations and recovery from the worst global recession in decades. This amazing prominence for food-related issues does appear odd in light of other items that once were ranked similarly.

Surely, nothing would be more pleasant than asserting that food is center stage because it is an issue fairly simple to solve. Considering the length of time that hunger has plagued humankind and the dimensions of prior attention give to this matter, that reasoning does not prevail. It was only a few months ago that Norman Borlaug, the only winner of the Nobel Peace prize for working with food issues, died, reminding how this father of the Green Revolution deplored to his death the failure of efforts to end hunger. At the other extreme in seeking to identify why hunger issues are so prominent is the cynical assertion that focusing on food diverts from insoluble problems like the Middle East and preventing another recession.

Yet, these food issues, which increasingly involve the grain industry as much as intergovernmental organizations and national bodies, have themselves grown in magnitude and toughness, regardless of the great progress made in production, distribution and reaching consumers. Nothing states that challenge more clearly than the most recent estimates by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that global cereal grain demand will expand from 2.1 billion tonnes currently to at least 3 billion by 2050. Meat production, a factor of this grain demand, will nearly double in the same period, to 470 million tonnes in 2050, or 200 million more than at present. Such growth stems from parallel increases in incomes and in population. The UN forecasts global numbers rising to 9.1 billion at the middle of the 21st century, compared with 6.8 billion currently. The FAO has estimated that meeting this dramatic expansion in grain needs requires bold increases in investment in primary agriculture, accompanied by significant yield gains and expanded land use.

These prospects are not new. What is new is the intensity, including gatherings convened by the UN and its FAO, as well as new approaches by groups like the Clinton Global Initiative, the organization headed by former U.S. President Bill Clinton to enlist private companies in addressing global issues. Coincident with the last UN General Assembly, Mr. Clinton announced Project Laser Beam, which will seek to identify in two unnamed countries of Asia the underlying causes of malnutrition, emphasizing better nutrition, household food security, health and hygiene. Increasing micronutrient intake will be important. This will involve the World Food Programme (WFP) as well as the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN).

Also new to the current focus on food issues is the commitment by major international food companies to join in searching for answers to the toughest questions. From Mr. Clinton’s announcement that he will seek to raise $50 million to support his organization’s Project Laser Beam to GAIN’s funding by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one is struck by the new role of public-private partnerships in providing funding as well as knowledge. This is the key to the intensified look at resolving food shortages and malnutrition. Its commercial aspect is underscored by the attention given to delivering "healthier foods and supplements," not only to vulnerable populations but to hundreds of millions needing assistance. This new dimension of collaboration to help solve global food issues will almost certainly introduce the same motives into how business is done in marketplaces that have seen little or none of this in the past.

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