Sustainable Development Depends on Better Nutrition for All Nations

From cold chains and blockchains – major technological revolutions are on the brink of transforming food systems. While cold chain technology can prevent losses as food travels from farm to market, blockchain technology can help digitally and accurately relay vast amounts of data between networks of farmers, traders and vendors. All this can help reduce transaction costs, reduce financial barriers to accessing markets and build trust in the provenance of food, from farm, forest and ocean to fork.

Solving Dietary Issues Through Public Private Partnerships: An Example from the Field

October 19, 2018

Every October, World Food Day is celebrated around the globe. Unfortunately, hunger is increasing, not decreasing. After a period of decline, world hunger is on the rise again. Today, over 820 million people are suffering chronic undernourishment [1]. While the reasons for the rise in hunger are complex, the role of the private sector, while acknowledged to be a key component in solving hunger-related issues, continues to be debated. This piece will present one of many personal experiences with the role of public private partnerships in addressing hunger.

Since 1979, I have been involved with the implementation of multimillion-dollar agriculture field programs around the world. They have had, as their aim, to improve food security either indirectly through income generation through agro-related activities and/or directly with farming households through improving productivity and dietary diversity for their own consumption. Private sector involvement has always been integral part of these programs. Private sector engagement in food security is nothing new. It has been around since the domestication of agricultural crops and livestock. Today’s global food supply chains impact local food systems everywhere, both positively and negatively.

In recent years the international development community of practice has focused in on the role of the private sector in improving dietary quality, especially in vulnerable populations. Data from food insecure countries show diet-related micronutrient malnutrition, especially vitamin A and iron, to be serious issues impacting maternal and child health. Many food insecure countries have limited financial and human resources to combat micronutrient malnutrition, so using their limited assets strategically is a high priority. Countries grapple with a key question around private sector engagement: How can government serve as a big picture “market enabler,” and stop taking on actions that the private sector already does?

I recently facilitated a discussion group on this very topic as part of a long-term advisory assignment in Sub-Saharan Africa. The country was in the process of developing a multi-year plan for agriculture. Our discussion group consisted of private sector actors from throughout the agriculture supply chain (small growers, input suppliers, buyers, and processors), as well as NGOs and public sector actors from the ministry of agriculture, which included a policy maker and key personnel in charge of outreach. One of the big changes the government was committed to was transitioning from their role as “market maker” to “market enabler.” This included a desire to concentrate more on how to solve dietary issues, especially micronutrient malnutrition, through the marketplace as an enabler.

The group selected iron-fortified beans as a case study to illustrate how the enabler process could be achieved. First, we reviewed recent data that indicated women in the country who consumed iron-fortified beans significantly improved iron levels in 128 days [2]. Next, the group agreed that the type of bean tested in the consumption trial is consumed widely and is easily grown in traditional mixed cropping systems. Next, we asked the food processor about iron-fortified beans who stated his company was in the final stages of setting up a processing line for canned beans using locally grown beans. The processor could see the competitive advantage of marketing highly nutritious beans in a country where diet-related iron deficiency was so prevalent; as long as using iron-fortified beans would not cost more than conventional beans, he would consider buying them.

At that point the group turned to the public sector participants from the ministry of agriculture. The outreach/extension director stated that if the buyer was committed to buying iron-fortified beans, and since beans are traditionally grown, the extension team could come up with an outreach plan to provide skills to improve productivity throughout the supply chain to produce the quantity and quality required. NGOs attending the discussion indicated that they would support demand creation for iron-rich beans through their behavioral change communications work. Finally, the policy maker spoke. He now understood how an identified dietary gap could be used to drive an agricultural supply chain. He understood the role of the ministry as a market enabler for the private sector in creating demand for nutrient-dense foods that should have a positive impact on micronutrient malnutrition.

This example highlights how nutrition-driven value chains present opportunities in which key actors identify a common interest and then proceed to build a public–private partnership to resolve the issue.

[1] FAO 2018 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report.

[2] The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 146, Issue 8, 1 August 2016.

Share Your Thoughts

What has been your experience with the role of public-private partnerships in addressing hunger-related issues? What worked? What didn’t? If you’d like to respond with an article or opinion, you can find us on Twitter @HungerNotes, or on Facebook at World Hunger Education Service – Hunger Notes.

About the Author

Since 1979, Paul Sommers has been an active proponent for the integration of agriculture and nutrition. He holds academic degrees in both agriculture and nutritional sciences, and has taught both subjects as a faculty member in the California State University system. He has promoted the market-driven link through a variety of channels including USAID, Peace Corps, NGOs, the United Nations, and the World Bank. His field activities have included on the ground technical assistance in over 55 countries, management of long-term food security projects, capacity building through community-based workshops and the publication of several field training manuals, and “how to” books on the food production nutrition linkage for community outreach staff. The author’s blog is:

*This is an independent article and does not necessarily reflect the views of WHES.

Solving Hunger?

October 10, 2018

The good news is that the battle against hunger is slowly but surely being won [1]. Before the stones and arrows start flying my way, I hasten to point out that the progress is not everywhere and it is not all the time. The long-term trends seem to be in the right direction. However, a lot of work remains to be done to reduce inequalities within and among communities and countries, and to increase the pace of this improvement for the poorest and most vulnerable among us.

There is nothing simple about reducing world hunger. Neither, in my mind, is it subject to the “big” solutions often promoted by the international development agencies, local governments, or some of our NGO colleagues. There is a tendency, especially among single-issue groups, to define the “hunger” problem as being the result of a single factor (low agricultural productivity, inefficient storage and distribution systems, lack of credit, gender, flawed land tenure systems, lack of timely market information, poorly developed supply chains, climate change, globalization, etc.). Each of these factors, of course, plays a role in the total problem of world hunger – in different ways in different places. It is my experience that huge investments in any single one of them will not be the magic button that solves the problem. Inter-agency fighting about which of these issues is most important in a given situation is unlikely to create positive change. It is more likely to result in a waste of resources and confusion among those people who are meant to be helped.

Reducing hunger in the world is not just a matter of increasing food aid, producing more food, or developing more efficient storage, marketing, and distribution systems. Hunger will not be resolved by focusing on individual self-sufficiency (grow what you eat) or central planning with bureaucrats telling farmers what they must or must not plant. My conclusion, after a long career working at or near the grass roots around the world, is that the solution involves facilitating comparative advantage throughout the economic system. Small-scale farmers, agro-processors, input suppliers, government agencies, bankers, and many others all have important roles to play in improving the productive efficiency of the food system at the community, national, and international levels.

We should also be aware that sometimes the solution to “hunger” has nothing to do with food production at all. In some communities, what people need is a job that will provide enough income for them to buy the food that is already available.

My own experience has been that the best we international development “experts” can do is to take people (small-scale farmers, entrepreneurs and others) where they are: work with them to understand what it is that is limiting the results of their labors and help them to overcome those constraints and get to the next level. This new and somewhat higher level will then be a new base from which to reach further and gradually influence the bigger changes that need to be made for progress to continue. Our financial and material input should be limited to contributing to the one-time costs of overcoming those constraints, while counting on increased recurring costs to be covered by increased results.

Some of our colleagues believe that simply making more micro-lending available to small-scale farmers and entrepreneurs will be “the” solution, assuming that these folks will be able to put the loans to good use, improving their standard of living on a sustainable basis. Others believe that the insertion of a major bit of infrastructure (e.g. a government-owned pack house, market stall, or new irrigation scheme) will be the stimulus needed to make things better. My experience is that either of these approaches might be part of a solution, but that finding the “right” mix of interventions is a matter more of art than of science. While lessons of experience should not be ignored, the “right” answers are not generalizable. The best solution will be the result of a lot of conversation between the outside “experts” and the people on the ground, as well as research into the climatic, geographic, economic, social, political, historical, and other realities of that place.

Many basic “tools” for addressing hunger are readily available for adaptation to meet the needs of specific situations. What we as development professionals need to do is work with the concerned people in a given situation to identify and adapt the most appropriate of these tools and apply them to the situation. These tools might be as simple as developing demo plots to show the results of specific production practices, or as complex as planning the development of sophisticated agro-processing and marketing enterprises, or helping government improve its quality inspection and certification programs.

There are numerous simple lessons that I have learned over the past nearly 50 years I’ve been engaged in these efforts, but those are topics for another day. I have discussed and illustrated several of these lessons in my blog, Readers are invited to visit the site and respond if so moved. Contrary (or additive) arguments are welcome to advance the discussion and the state of the art.

[1] Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now, Viking Press, 2018, pp 68-78

Share Your Thoughts

Have you had first hand experiences with solving hunger? If you have been involved at household level to national policy level, what worked and what didn’t? If you’d like to respond with an opinion or article, you can find us on Twitter @HungerNotes, or on Facebook at World Hunger Education Service – Hunger Notes.

About the Author: Gary Kilmer is a development economist and veteran of many years working with small-scale farmers and entrepreneurs around the world. His experience includes grassroots level work as a Peace Corps Volunteer (Kenya), program and project design and implementation experience in Ghana, Indonesia, Palestine, Armenia, and Moldova, and short term technical, training, and management assistance to programs in about 40 other countries. In all of this work he has taken a  pragmatic approach to grass roots development based on strong partnerships with local people involved and learning from experience. Some of the lessons from this experience have been gathered in a blog site ( All readers are invited to visit that site, review Kilmer’s experience, and leave their comments.

*This is an independent article and does not necessarily reflect the views of WHES.

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