The other day at the WTO Public Forum, a 3-day annual gathering of government, civil society and business participants, it came as no surprise when Emmanuel Faber, Chief Operating Officer of Danone, the French food industry giant, said during a panel that businesses like his could not help much to address the issue of food security. More surprisingly, however, he then added that food and water should be “desynchronised from capital markets and the volatility” that comes with them to create a stable and fair global food system. This is a stark statement coming from a chief representative of a company that earned a net profit of €1.7 billion last year through producing, processing and selling food globally and makes more than half of its turnover in emerging countries.
According to Faber, paradoxically, most of the world’s 2 billion or so poor people are farmers. Furthermore, only three types of cereal – namely wheat, corn and rice – supply sixty percent of the calorific and protein intake of the world population today. Although this had meant a “fantastic opportunity” for businesses, it also presents a “major systemic risk” for humankind. For Faber, technology can only be part of the solution to overcome the challenge of feeding a growing world population and creating sustainable livelihoods and agricultural systems in the face of environmental degradation and climate change.
The fight against hunger and for food security have been on the global agenda at least since 1974, when governments solemnly committed to eradicating hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition "within a decade" at the first World Food Conference. More than thirty years and innumerable summits, meetings, policy studies and statements later, we are still way behind that goal. Worse, today we face another food paradox, not mentioned by Danone’s COO: the incidences of excess weight, obesity and chronic food-related diseases such as diabetes are growing, not least in developing countries. They are likely to touch over 1.5 billion people in 2015 according to a recent forecast by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
When neither the ‘international community’ nor governments are able (or willing) to achieve tangible results in eradicating hunger and creating sustainable livelihoods for the poor (see e.g. Richard Heuzé – World Hunger Report: Food Security and Reality), and food industry representatives say that they “have no clue” about how to feed the world, should we then throw up our hands and accept the inacceptable? That the World is unfair and that chronic hunger and economic inequalities are phenomena as old as human history that cannot be overcome?
Or can we start hoping that when business leaders like Faber join calls from civil society and grassroots organisations for a paradigm change, for delinking food and water from capital markets, for a more integrated approach, for new and innovative solution, we will finally be capable of building sustainable agricultural systems as well as decent and healthy living conditions for every human being on the planet?