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Online/Eschborn, 26 Nov 2012. How to create mutual interest partnerships between various stakeholders was one of the major questions debated at the Economist conference "Feeding the World: Africa’s role in solving the global food crisis" Johannesburg. Leonie Vierck, GIZ researcher, reports on this and the other main discussions surrounding the role of rural women and the problem of malnutrition.
Read the transcript with minor edits below.
Platform secretariat: Leonie, you were at the conference “Feeding the World: Africa’s role in solving the global food crisis“ in Johannesburg. Please tell us from your perspective what the conference’s most important outcome in terms of food security was.
Leonie Vierck: I think the Economist really highlights the fact that food security should be combined with nutrition security, so the single main outcome of the conference was related to both food and nutrition security and to linking agriculture, health and nutrition at the same time. So, from my perspective the single main outcome of the conference centers around three main points: the role of rural women in Africa, the double burden of malnutrition and the potential and the need to build up good and sound partnership models. The first point really touches on the ongoing discussion in the international arena about the importance of influencing and empowering women in rural Africa. They are often both, on the one hand, smallholder farmers and at the same time are responsible for the whole household and are a very important actor for change for different interactions in agriculture and also nutrition.
The second point is about the double burden of malnutrition, which means that you have countries experiencing undernutrition, malnutrition and over-nutrition at the same time. This is a growing problem in Africa, for example in South Africa, so this was also highlighted.
The third point was probably the essence of the whole conference and related to the fact that all goals, objectives, aims or interventions in food and nutrition security alike are pretty meaningless, if you don’t manage good and sound multi-stakeholder relations and partnerships.
Having private sector actors at a table with NGOs was was very constructive and helpful.
Secretariat: The conference included the private sector and our annual general assembly is also focusing on the private sector. Were there any concrete commitments by these private sector business people at the conference with regards to the goal of food security?
L.V.: I don’t think there was much concrete commitment, because this conference was not so much about concrete commitments. It was really more about presenting approaches, discussing and networking a lot. But certainly, you’re absolutely right: A lot of private sector companies were present at the conference, and one of the objectives and goals of the conference was certainly to broker and foster dialogue between different stakeholders. I would also like to highlight here the fact that what I particularly liked about the Johannesburg conference, as opposed to the Geneva conference in February (note from the Secretariat: The Economist's "Feeding the World: The 9-billion people question" conference), was a great deal of NGO participation and also academic participation.
There was really a lot of diverse and controversial dialogue going on. I think that was a great thing because you had some private sector participants on one panel sitting next to NGOs and academics who were criticising them. That was very constructive in the end and helpful. The role of the private sector was a lot of presenting why the private sector is interested in food and nutrition security and also to demonstrate concrete case studies and business models for the private sector. The private sector here is mainly agribusiness and also the processing food industry. You had both really large companies like DSM, BASF and Mars but also smaller companies.
Secretariat: Maybe you can give us an example for an interaction that I assume doesn’t usually take place.
L.V.: There was a Japanese company, Ajinomoto, that presented their activities in Ghana, with scaling up BOP business models (note from the Secretariat: Bottom of the pyramid models), so inclusive business models, jointly with the Global Alliance for Improve Nutrition and other NGO actors. That was rather a case study of an implementing partnership. But then you also had the very controversial style of discussions regarding the question if the main challenge until 2050 will actually be to provide sufficient staple food for populations — that was a point argued by the World Wildlife Fund, for example — or if the question would be rather to provide highly nutritious food, but that the challenge would not rest in providing sufficient staple foods.
Public institutions are especially strong, if they forge a development case taking into account business case interests.
Another example is related to the role of smallholder farmers and how to integrate them and if you could actually reach large population groups by working with smallholder farmers. So business cycles of agriculture, that sort of thing. Those were the more controversial discussions. Consequently, you saw during the presentations both rather soundly argued implementing partnerships with actors cooperating as well as some more thought-provoking panel discussions with some controversial opinions.
Secretariat: What do you think can public institutions learn from a conference of this format? The network of the Global Donor Platform is made up of public institutions and the private sector obviously has a different approach to these things. What do you think the platform as a network, or the institutions, the members themselves, could learn from this conference?
L.V.: First of all, understanding the motivations. Looking at the private sector presentations, you could really understand what the motivation of the private sector is, and what their business case is. I think public institutions are especially strong, if we also forge a development case that then potentially matches or sometimes does not match the business case interests. This is what such conferences are great for, that you really get a good understanding of the interests and motivations of other actors who participate. During the whole day and a half of the conference, it became clearer and clearer that one of the main challenges was really to create mutual interest partnerships between different actors. The question was really how to do this and when it makes sense to partner up, how to build trust among partners. I think that is also something that is very interesting for public institutions. Of course, the whole conference was in line with the spirit of the new G8 Alliance for Food and Nutrition Security, with the private sector really participating on a large scale. All of these initiatives were also discussed and it is very interesting for the public institutions to follow these discussions from different angles.
The interview was conducted by Pascal Corbé of the Platform secretariat.