A New Vision

by Meyer Sosland
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At the recent World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland, a coalition of business, governments and farmers launched a strategy to tackle one of the greatest challenges of this century: feeding the world’s growing population. According to United Nations (U.N.) forecasts, in 2050 the world’s population will reach 9 billion, requiring an additional 1 billion tonnes of annual cereal production on top of the current level of 2.3 billion tonnes.

The strategy entitled “Realizing a New Vision for Agriculture: A Roadmap for Stakeholders” is being led by 17 global companies and sets ambitious targets.

The companies leading the initiative span the full agriculture value chain, including Archer Daniels Midland Co., BASF, Bunge Limited, Cargill, The Coca-Cola Company, DuPont, General Mills, Kraft Foods, Metro AG, Monsanto Company, Nestlé, PepsiCo, SABMiller, Syngenta, Unilever, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Yara International.

“Business can help transform agriculture, but we can’t do it alone,” said Paul Polman, chief executive officer (CEO) of Unilever. “By working collaboratively with farmers, governments and others, we can achieve our common goals of increasing health and prosperity while protecting the planet.”

The key focus of the strategy is building on the private sector’s capacity for innovation, investment and growing markets. It recommends better coordination among business, government and civil society to improve agriculture systems holistically. Over 350 leaders from all sectors around the world contributed to the New Vision’s conclusions and recommendations.

“New partnerships between the private and public sectors are critical to confronting the new reality of high and rising food prices,” said Robert Greenhill, managing director at the World Economic Forum.

To help realize this group’s aspirations, the New Vision is anchored to the core goals of providing food security for all, in an environmentally sustainable manner, and generating economic growth and opportunity. It sets these three specific goals:

• Increase global agricultural production by 20% each decade while substantially reducing waste, toward the elimina- tion of hunger and undernourishment.

• Reduce emissions per tonne of production by 20% each decade; optimize overall water use; lessen agricultural impact on the environment.

• Decrease the proportion of rural inhabitants living on less than $1.25 per day by 20% each decade.

The New Vision notes that achieving food security requires more than increasing production — although sufficient supply is necessary. It says that building this pillar of the New Vision will require improvements across the supply chain to close yield gaps, promote efficient distribution, minimize waste and improve food access.

It will also involve focused efforts to engage the most vulnerable and bring them into the broader agriculture system. Consumers will have to be educated to make the best choices and minimize spoilage and waste. A critical focal point is maternal and child health, as this is a proven axis for a community’s broader nutritional status.

The New Vision asserts that agricultural production need not be a detriment to the planet; in fact, it can be a linchpin of sustainability by providing vital ecosystem services such as watershed management and carbon sequestration that offset industrial growth.

The New Vision strives for an absolute minimization of the environmental footprint, beginning with reductions in its impact relative to production. This includes limiting greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption while preserving soil health and biodiversity. It will also require technological breakthroughs to help farmers adapt to the consequences of climate change, enable production and mitigate risk under increasingly difficult conditions.

“We think increased demand for food, feed, fiber and industrial products can be met sustainably through a combination of innovation, investment — particularly in infrastructure — and public and private partnerships,” said Patricia Woertz, chairman, CEO and president of ADM. “We think it starts with ensuring we make the most of what we already produce and that nothing goes to waste.

“As a CEO of a company active in the post-harvest phase of agriculture, I envisage a world where more is done to eliminate waste. Across the globe, from 15 to as much as 50 percent of what is harvested does go to waste. We need to protect the crops already harvested through investment in research and storage and transportation infrastructure. It is critical in reaching those who need food most, and it can make sure we make the most of the land, water, energy and other inputs already used.”

The New Vision notes that agriculture is the predominant driver of growth in many low- and middle-income countries, and GDP growth from agriculture has proven to be more effective at reducing poverty than growth originating in other sectors. Investing in the success of rural populations is vital to equitable human development. The New Vision asserts that this involves targeting those below the poverty line and enabling the growth of rural economies with widespread access to transport, energy and information.

“The success of farmers will bring this New Vision to life,” said Hugh Grant, CEO of Monsanto. “The New Vision will require action by all of us, working across the public and private sectors, to create the policies, infrastructure and partnerships needed to provide farmers choice and access to markets.”

Reaching the central goals of the New Vision report will, according to its authors, require contributions from every stakeholder of global agriculture: developed and developing countries, exporters and importers, large-scale producers and subsistence growers. The New Vision calls for farmers to be engaged and empowered in every system and notes that large commercial players are critical to stabilizing global supply and can apply sustainable practices at scale. Smallholders, who currently lack access to critical inputs and markets, will be vital to meeting local nutritional and economic needs. Pursuing the New Vision’s three objectives simultaneously will inevitably require careful societal choices and tradeoffs, the report said.

The New Vision is already being implemented in two countries — Tanzania and Vietnam. Speaking at a press conference at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, where the strategy was presented, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania unveiled a blueprint for public-private investment in the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor, developed with support from the initiative.

“Developing this corridor could triple regional production, generate $1.2 billion per year and lift 2 million people out of poverty,” he said. “My government is committed to realizing this opportunity to generate sustainable growth in the region.”

The concept of coordinating investments has attracted interest from business, government and donor organizations.
“Innovative public-private partnerships offer a powerful opportunity to achieve significant impact on global hunger and nutrition,” said Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

USAID is supporting Tanzania’s growth corridor and catalytic fund through Feed the Future, the U.S. government global hunger and food security initiative.

Farmer leaders from India, Africa, Europe and the U.S. welcomed the initiative.

“Farmers are entrepreneurs, and by partnering with companies they can get the access to the markets, financing and technology they need,” said Chengal Reddy, co-chair of the Indian Farmers and Industry Alliance.

The New Vision for Agriculture roadmap may be downloaded in full at http://www.weforum.org/agriculture. The Tanzania Investment Blueprint can be downloaded at: http://www.africacorridors.com/sagcot.