Stephen Cadogan: Forum hears farm incomes key to feeding the world

Look after the farmers, and they will look after you, says Stephen Cadogan. 

Or, as the Chief Executive Officer of the world’s biggest earning food company told last week’s World Economic Forum, put in place a robust framework for farmer livelihoods and community development.

It’s good advice for other food companies, and an important take-home message for the more than 2,500 representatives of business, government, academia and civil society who participated in the Forum in Switzerland.

It’s advice that has helped Nestlé become the largest food company in the world, measured by their 2013 sales of €91 billion, and net profit of €10bn.

Nestlé Chief Executive Officer Paul Bulcke said the food industry depends for its very existence on the reliable and sustainable provision of high-quality agricultural raw materials, and to achieve this, the importance of generating higher and more reliable incomes for farmers, notably smallholder farmers, cannot be overemphasised.

He said the industry needs to ensure that farming remains attractive for the next generation, by making it a sustainable and profitable activity.

The industry also needs to ensure that the rural communities in which farmers live remain vibrant and provide the necessary opportunities for economic and social development.

Investing in rural education and focusing on the creation of job opportunities for rural populations through, for example, a decentralised manufacturing strategy, are some key elements for Nestlé.

At the forum, he was addressing food and nutrition security today, and in 2050 for a world population that will number more than 9 billion and be 70% urbanised — requiring 60% more food than is produced now.

He said sustaining the agriculture of 2050 will also open markets, relevant education programmes, higher infrastructure investment, and appropriate legal frameworks, such as land rights, at the national level.

At the international level, the global trade regime must be appropriately designed and aligned, and the agri-food sector must be allowed to harness innovations and new technologies appropriately.

He said governments must take the lead in enabling all in the agri-food sector to deliver.

Despite huge challenges — such as the post-harvest losses and waste of up to 50% of total calories available from farm to fork — he is confident that the required solutions to address the food and nutrition security challenge can be found.

Producing the necessary quantity of food is just part of the challenge. The quality of food, in terms of nutrition, matters greatly, as do affordability, access and safety, while sustainability must underlie all these.

Market-based approaches must be prioritised, with the private sector focusing on bringing in investment, developing new technologies, and delivering greater efficiencies where possible.

Above all, farmers must be front and centre of the picture, said Bulcke, who added that the World Economic Forum’s New Vision for Agriculture initiative is putting agriculture back on worldwide policy agendas as a priority issue.


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