SINGAPORE - We are experiencing a paradigm shift in our global approach to tackling food and nutrition security. Last year, a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations called for a reform from a sectoral, top-down approach to one that is multi-sectoral and context specific. All of us—from governments, the private sector, public sector, NGOs, and the media—have a critical role to play.
Tackling Issues at a System Level
In line with the World Economic Forum’s New Vision for Agriculture, multi-stakeholder partnerships are at the core of Grow Asia’s approach to improving the incomes, productivity, and environmental sustainability of smallholder farmers in South East Asia. Grow Asia launches and supports Country Partnerships which are led and guided by local leaders from government, private sector, civil society, and farmer organizations. Our role is to convene stakeholders across the value chain and across different sectors, with the aim of creating sustainable value chain partnerships that benefit the interests of smallholder farmers.
This approach allows us to tackle issues at a systems level while making use of the unique skillsets that each of our partners offer. More importantly, this allows us to holistically meet the needs of smallholder farmers, including access to knowledge, finance, information, inputs, and markets. Already, we have seen the potential for such partnerships to greatly improve the livelihoods and food security of smallholders.
An example of this is the coffee working group in Vietnam, which is supported by Grow Asia through the Partnership for Sustainable Agriculture in Vietnam. This project demonstrates how effective multi-stakeholder projects can address industry challenges through coordinating activities across the value chain. Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development co-chairs the coffee working group along with private sector leads Nestlé and Yara. By bringing together key industry players, the project has trained farmers on good agricultural practices, provided them with new seed varieties, supported farmers them to achieve certification and linked them with off-taker companies. On average, farmers involved in the project have experienced 12 percent higher yields, 14 percent higher incomes and reduced their carbon emissions by 55 percent.
Similarly, Grow Asia supports a corn working group in Indonesia, through the Partnership for Indonesia’s Sustainable Agriculture. This working group has tapped into the synergies of multiple partners to better integrate smallholder farmers in the supply chain and overcome financial access challenges. Bank Andara finances loans for smallholders and distributes them through local rural bank BPR Pesisir Akbar to make best use of their capabilities. ACA Insurance works together with Syngenta’s field officers to verify claims, using the field officers’ local networks and GPS technologies. Mercy Corps Indonesia has rolled out an Agri-Fin project that facilitates information dissemination and data collection. From an initial 198 farmers to 840 farmers, with plans to reach 2,500 farmers in the upcoming phase, the project demonstrates the potential of multi-stakeholder projects to generate large scale impact.
Increasing Recognition that a Multi-Stakeholder Approach Works
Our belief in adopting a multi-stakeholder approach to achieve global food security is increasingly being validated. Across the entire spectrum of Grow Asia projects, from those in the conceptualization and design phase to those looking to scale, organizations are recognizing that they are just one part of the solution. Our role—and challenge—is to support working groups by identifying new partners that are willing to engage and are able to contribute. We believe these strong partnerships will build the foundations for sustained progress and impact.
Partners are also embracing the pre-competitive nature of such multi-stakeholder projects, with competitors coming together in partnership. For example, Unilever, in partnership with Grow Asia, is leading the launch of a common digital platform that can be shared across all Grow Asia partners. The platform aims to act as a one-stop-shop for smallholder farmers to gain access to knowledge, finance and markets. Other partners have stressed the limitations of what they can do, based on their own business needs, and have been proactively engaging competitor companies to adopt similar models. We find this incredibly encouraging and hope that this spirit of collaboration will continue to strengthen.
Future Food Systems
The World Economic Forum recently published a report that presents various scenarios for the future of global food systems. The analysis is a sobering exercise as we contemplate the long-term effects of our actions today. Transformational, systemic change is needed if we are to establish sustainable and nutritious food systems. A coordinated effort across sectors and stakeholders has never been more essential.
This post originally appeared as a guest commentary on the Chicago Council on Global Affairs Global Food for Thought blog.