foodFIRST for Thought

The Business of Food and Nutrition Security

© 2012-10-16 | Karlijn Muiderman

The fifth FoodFirst conference at the Floriade in Venlo focussed on the effects of malnutrition, or so called â??hidden hungerâ??. Every day, 925 million suffer from hunger. Two billion people lack the essential nutrients to live a long and healthy life. The problem is still growing: The worldâ??s population rises fast, and the demand for food rises even faster.

Good nutrition is crucial for a normal physical and mental development of children and defines their opportunities in later life. Investing in human capital through better nutrition is one of the most cost-effective ways of helping countriesâ?? economic growth (Copenhagen Consensus, 2008).

The FoodFirst conference brought together international experts in business, policy making, civil society organizations, and science to reinforce partnerships that tackle global food and nutrient security. The Netherlands is an obvious location for conferences like these because of its world-leading position in the food sector and the expertise and experiences connected herewith.

The moderator of the day, Paulus Verschuren, special advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and expert in the field of nutrition security, set out the focus of the day: â??We donâ??t have to worry about food, we are surrounded by it. The poorest have to worry day by day, struggling how to feed their families. They donâ??t have the variety we have. Quality of food is important particularly for their children. Thousands of people die due to lack of access to a variety of food. The damages done by malnutrition are irreversible.â??

Four dilemmas
The conference centred on improving access to (nutritious, healthy, and varied) food for the poorest population. Four important threads showed up in the presentations. The first was briefly mentioned by moderator Verschuren: a call for new partnerships. â??We need a new global call. Businesses start to understand you canâ??t set up a business in a society that is not healthy. The elements of solutions are there. We need to work together more, and better. Nobody is as smart as all of us together.â??
The second thread was the inclusion of women and children. Third, balancing surplus of food with malnutrition, and relating to this, the fourth dilemma was to tackle governmental incapacities and cultural gaps that lead to inefficient distributions.

Joining forces
The first keynote speaker was Jay Naidoo, a former activist, union leader, Minister in Nelson Mandelaâ??s Cabinet, and now chair of the board of GAIN, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, a foundation with headquarters in Geneva that is committed to addressing malnutrition facing two billion people in the world. Naidoo started with expressing his affiliation for cooperation with the Netherlands: â??The Dutch are not afraid to speak their minds. There is commitment from the private sector to do something about food and nutrition security in the Netherlands, e.g. companies such as Unilever, because it is the right thing to do.â?? Naidoo underlined that we have all the knowledge, the legislation, business models, NGO expertise that allows us to do so, but lack the political will. And within the new partnerships and business models, he stressed to â??put the health and the human dignity as our foremost priority. (...) Why donâ??t we roll up his sleeves and just do it?â??

Naidoo stressed the â??need to try to develop a model that makes the markets work for the poorest of the poor.â?? The problem is urgent: â??We know absence of micronutrients leads to irreversible damage to children. 300 children die every hour, while we have the science, and the money to prevent this.â?? He advocated to focus on the mother, since she is the one who needs the right nutrition when sheâ??s pregnant, who can make the choice to breastfeed her child, who feeds her children, and who informs her children what food to eat while growing up. This inclusion of, and focus on women and children represented the second thread throughout the conference. (The keynote speech by Sriparna Ganguly Chaudhuri, Director The Hunger Project India, shares these experiences.)

Dutch Commitment
The conference turned to the focus on partnerships with the second keynote speaker Ben Knapen, Minister for Development Cooperation. He articulated the Dutch governmentsâ?? commitment to food security and nutrition: â??We are putting our money where our mouth is, we have expanded our budget from â?¬160 million to â?¬435 million in 2015.â?? He summed up several initiatives the Ministry supports: the Amsterdam Initiative Against Malnutrition, UNICEF, GAIN, SUN, fertilisation programmes, and sustainable trade initiatives. He expressed the need for help: â??We can only facilitate, others have to do the job, because they have the expertise: NGOs such as the Hunger Project, outstanding companies like DSM, Unilever, and Friesland Campina.â?? Knapen ended his speech with pointing at the urgent issue of rising food prices, due to drought or speculation: â??If you spend 80% on food, rising prizes almost immediately affect your life.â??

Inclusion of women and children
In her presentation, Sriparna Ganguly Chaudhuri, Director of The Hunger Project India, stressed that the solution lies with the women, because gender inequality is intrinsically linked with a lack of quality food. She brought forward her experiences from working in the slums of India:

â??Business should work with local women, who often live in deprived situations. These women need to be sustained in different ways, they need to have options, and they need to be educated. Men tend to spend a lot of their income on alcohol. So when the women come home from a long day of hard work, they often get beaten. How will they be able to make the right choices, and make good meals for their children? Also, they did not have good food when growing up. These women have been conditioned to a situation where they donâ??t have anything. They donâ??t know better: nobody has invested in them, they have been neglected. So we need to educate these women what is good food to prepare for their children, based on local vegetables.â??

These women have very little voice in the decisions that affect their life, they have no access to markets, cannot get loans, have no rights, and are subjected to the caste system.

Balancing surplus and malnutrition
Chaudhuri emphasized the impact of malnutrition in India: despite a vast quantity of buffer and reserve stocks of food grain in India, about 300 million people live below the poverty line, 42% of children under 5 suffer from malnutrition and in rural areas deaths by starvation are still common. This introduced the third thread throughout the conference: how to balance surplus with malnutrition. Chaudhuri said that only 48% of all food supply in India reaches the poor, 52% of food supply gets lost due to, a.o., a lack of infrastructure. (Naidoo would later on relate this to a lack of governance.)

Tackling governmental incapacities
This related to the fourth thread throughout the conference: tackling governmental incapacities and cultural gaps that lead to inefficient food distributions. Governmental incapacities included â??the complete lack of political will to make it workâ??, according to Chaudhuri. She mentioned how people would move to the city, expecting to find more income and food there, but would in fact end up in the slums where they have no address and are thus excluded from governmental food programmes. This supported her statement that â??change can only come if we empower the village, they need to have a voice in the decisions at political tables and conferences.â??

The fourth speaker, Atzo Nicolaï, President of DSM Netherlands, asserted to get the â??max out of the mix.â?? His speech supported partnerships with and inclusion of the poor: â??No single party is capable of providing an overall, sustainable solution. Concerted action is the only way forward. And second, one must realize just how important it is to pragmatically engage with the â??base of the pyramidâ??, to understand, to forge relationships, to forge trust â?? and thus lay a solid foundation for gradual change. If you really want to combat malnutrition, you need to be a local insider.â?? Later on in the discussion he said: â??they donâ??t want our food now,â?? emphasizing education to overcome cultural differences.
He elaborated on DSMâ??s innovative work to combat malnutrition: â??We innovate at ingredient level: vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, enzymes, premixes of micro nutrients. Second, at the product level: two examples are the kernel-fortified rice NutriRice and MixMe micronutrient powders sachets in different formulations, distributed via the WFP and UNICEF.â??
DSM also innovates at business model level. For example, they recently introduced Quali-Blend as a nutritious ingredient, which stands for nutrition & quality, to be marketed via a franchise model for street food in Indonesia. Finally, they established innovation through the partnerships with WFP and UNICEF.

During the discussion it proved again (this also surfaced in the earlier FFF conferences) that all parties seek a hybridization of expertise of businesses, NGOs, knowledge institutions, and governments, which stressed the importance of the FoodFirst cyclus. Nicolaï stated: â??We have experienced that when finding sustainable solutions for hidden hunger, malnutrition, development and poverty, the role of nutrition needs to be reinforced across a wide spectrum of sectors including food, health, social protection, education, gender equality, and environmental challenges. Breaking down the silos of disciplines and organizations is required not only to make better use of resources, but also to leverage the expertise of all parties involved. And respect each otherâ??s roles and capabilities.â??
Chaudhuri emphasized cultural influences: In India, political parties play a big role in exploiting the gaps that occur in the hierarchy within families (i.e., who gets to be the first to eat the food), caste hierarchy, religious differences and rural categorization: â??We have three or four beautiful food programs started by the government, but it doesnâ??t work because they donâ??t want it to work.â?? According to Chaudhuri, targeted approaches donâ??t work because there is lot of fall-out within the process. Therefore she advocates a holistic approach. Furthermore, she stressed to take into account that women leave home for wage labour 11 days after they have given birth, leaving the baby at home, without food and without breastfeeding them. Additionally she emphasized that there is a social stigma on breastfeeding.

Naidoo stressed that all our solutions are at supply side, but that a lot needs to be done at the other side, the governance side: â??Food distribution leaks because someone is benefitting from it. Who is feeding from the system? Are we prepared to take a stance against important people? It is a minefield out there. In the end of the day everything is political.â??

A suggestion was made from the audience to integrate the smallholderâ??s role: â??If the farmer canâ??t benefit from new business models and make more money heâ??s not interested.â??

The conference ended with an analysis and points for further action by Wim Naudé, Acting Dean Director of the Maastricht School of Management. He started with quoting Amartya Sen :

â??Famines are easy to prevent if there is a serious effort to do so, and a democratic government, facing elections and criticisms from opposition parties and independent newspapers, cannot help but make such an effort. Not surprisingly, while India continued to have famines under British rule right up to independence (the last famine, which I witnessed as a child, was in 1943, four years before independence), they disappeared suddenly with the establishment of a multiparty democracy and a free press.â??

Naudé summarized that we have many gaps in our knowledge and therefore need a coalition of forces. We need education for people to make informed choices and acknowledge that many populations have resistance against certain forms of nutrition. The food industry has become big business, but with innovation and huge growth, also inequality grew because many people do not have access. There is a need for internal regulation at company level to confirm to ethical standards regarding eradicating poverty. And also for external regulations, because a lack of regulations leads to unwanted incentives for banking, resources, and technology: We donâ??t want our food prizes to become linked. He ended with focussing on the need to train the small farmers as businessmen. To enforce their food production with a business approach and education formed by research.

Herafter, Jos van Gennip, Chair of the FoodFirst Coalition gave a personal word of thanks to all partners involved.

The day closed with a presentation of â??Too Good To Wasteâ??, an initiative by the winners of the Battle of the Cheetahs of the NCDO. This group of young food professionals raised awareness for the more than 30% of food that is thrown away in the production process. It falls off the plant, or does not look good enough. Too Good To Waste will travel around the Netherlands to hand out delicious gazpacho that is made from this 30% â??wasteâ??, just to show: â??Food waste is not waste until you waste it.â?? To see more about their initiative, watch their film via this link.

Short summary of the key outcomes of the day
To conclude, investing in human capital through better nutrition is one of the most cost-effective ways of helping countriesâ?? economic growth. New partnerships should access the poor, and include women and children. Food dilemmas are increasingly difficult due to prize fluctuations, drought, climate change, and a high urbanisation rate. Education is key to help the poor make right decision regarding food. NGOs are needed for capacity building and understanding cultural gaps. Local governments should be addressed on their incapability in the food distribution process. These partnerships allow a strong joint strategy that reinforces each partnerâ??s expertise.

foodFIRST for thought

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