Five priorities for global food agenda in 2015

We know the challenge that we face: World food production needs to double in the next 35 years, with 50% less use of land and natural resources. What potential solutions to this merit in-depth appraisal in 2015, along with attention from world leaders, farmers and other experts? Based on input from agricultural players and food supply-chain partners at the recent international F20 Food Summit, Rabobank has identified five key priorities. Rabobank Executive Board member Berry Marttin walks us through these priorities one by one.

Rabobank hosted the F20 Agricultural and Food Summit last November ahead of the 2014 G20 Summit held in Australia. The event attracted over 650 international agricultural producers and experts from all the areas of the food chain, politicians, experts, environmental organisations and youth organisations.
This year’s schedule is packed with even more high-profile conferences and other events devoted to food issues. Right after the international Grüne Woche in Berlin, is the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which will see a gathering of politicians, scientists and business leaders. Berry Marttin, Rabobank’s Executive Board member will be present at both. Rabobank is preparing to host another F20 Food Summit in the run-up to next November’s G20 Summit in Turkey, for which it will be inviting entrepreneurs and other experts from the world of food and agriculture. The aim is for all the parties in the food chain to take mutual responsibility and work together on solutions.

Farmers’ ideas as input for meetings with politicians

In the months leading up to the F20 Summit, Rabobank will be hosting a succession of meetings in various countries attended by entrepreneurs and other agriculture and food experts. Marttin: ‘Rabobank would like to more actively use its meetings with entrepreneurs to gather strategic input and seek guidance, so that we can develop potential solutions. We can use their ideas as input for national and international meetings with policymakers and politicians. Farmers do not yet have a large enough voice in this debate. We feel the political community should sit up and take notice of innovative farmers’ ideas – they are, after all, the ones putting the food on our tables and are pivotal to finding the solution. It is also important that in the generations to come we lessen the gap between farmers and consumers.’

Working towards solutions

In 2015, first steps have to be made to secure the food supply in 2050. That’s why a number of solutions have to be investigated and developed. ‘We are aware by now that there will be 9 billion people to feed by 2050 and we know the challenges and barriers involved. What we need to do now is start working towards solutions. That requires that we set priorities, and we expect to establish those priorities based on the F20 findings’, Berry Marttin explains. As an international leading bank in food and agribusiness Rabobank will provide clients access to finance, knowledge and networks. Banking for Food is Rabobank’s vision on global food security and the role of the bank.

Priority # 1: Greater cooperation between the various levels of the chains

The food supply chain starts on the farm – or, more precisely, with suppliers of agricultural inputs to farmers – and ends on the consumer’s plate. This supply chain is where all the challenges are concentrated and where the food is produced. The chains are affected by price fluctuations and unevenly distributed profit margins. If these chains are to be stabilised, the various parties will need to start working more closely together. This would involve vertical cooperation between the various levels of the chains, along with horizontal partnerships, for example between farmers.
‘A combination of cooperation, information exchange and new distribution models should lead to more stability. Governments should also assume their share of the responsibility in this process, by creating legislation that sets the stage for cooperation’, Berry Marttin says. Cooperatives, in particular, should be singled out as having an especially valuable role to play. ‘Industries in which strong cooperatives operate, have proved to be the most stable. So you know you are going to see potential there.’

‘What we need to do now is start working towards solutions. That requires that we set priorities.’

Berry Marttin, Rabobank Executive Board

Priority # 2: Using existing knowledge more effectively

By working together, the various supply chain partners can also make better use of existing knowledge. Marttin: ‘That is going to open up whole new avenues. Suppose one producer has an output of 7,000 kilos, and another produces 9,000 kilos. What is the second farmer doing differently from the first farmer? To get to the bottom of these types of questions, you need data and networks for sharing data and ideas.’ Rabobank draws on its own networks for farmers and horticulturists, supports efforts initiated by other parties and will be launching a digital information network in Australia later this year, to be followed by other countries in due course. In farming and food production, the connection and good use of data can also lead to improvements.

Priority # 3: Greater investment in research and development

It is not enough to merely share existing knowledge: new production methods are required to increase output while using fewer raw materials. This calls for substantial investments in research, development and knowledge. Individual farms simply lack the resources for ground-breaking research, and their production margin is far too low. With governments having slashed agricultural investments over the past few decades, the big question is: where will the investments come from? Marttin: ‘From a social perspective, we need to ask ourselves the question: how many billions does the world lose out on by holding back on investment? Investment in research and development is long-term investment. What you need, then, is investors who are willing to get on board, who can look beyond the short term and who have patience. Governments also need to do their bit and step in with funding, because food production is a matter of public interest.’

Priority # 4: Reducing losses in the supply chain

Other areas in which investment is sorely needed include the storage and logistics of agricultural products and food. With better systems in place and through improved planning and scheduling, food waste can be prevented, more food will become available, and financial returns will increase.
Rabobank Executive Board member Marttin: ‘The relationship between reducing food waste and saving money is one of cause and effect: throwing food away is tantamount to throwing money and scarce resources away. It is extremely frustrating for farmers to see how food is wasted: you wouldn’t throw out other things that have monetary or emotional value, so why wouldn’t you have those same qualms when it comes to food? That is something that really needs to change. Food, and food production, deserve respect.’

Priority # 5: Improving education on agriculture and food

‘We need more education in order to create awareness among people of a whole slew of issues related to agriculture and food’, Berry Marttin says. He cites reducing food waste, improving people’s diets, increasing agricultural output and forging closer relationships between consumers and farmers as being among these priorities. ‘None of us can achieve food security all on our own. It is a shared responsibility that requires that we all become involved and share our knowledge.’

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