The Importance of Public-Private Partnerships in Global Food Security

By Senator Amy Klobuchar

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Editor's note: Agri-Pulse and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs are teaming up to host a monthly column to explore how the U.S. agriculture and food sector can maintain its competitive edge and advance food security in an increasingly integrated and dynamic world.

The statistics on global hunger are both familiar and daunting: The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that nearly 800 million people suffer from chronic hunger. The vast majority live in underdeveloped or developing regions that often lack sufficient resources to mitigate the problem.

We also face a growing global population. The regions that will experience the greatest population growth - Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia - have the lowest agricultural yields and will be most at risk for hunger and malnutrition. While U.S. food assistance programs are critical tools for meeting immediate needs, the enormity of these gaps demands longer-term, systemic solutions to food insecurity.

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As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I know how important food security is to our nation and world. The U.S. government's commitment to global food security is not just a moral imperative. It's also critical for enhancing economic growth domestically and promoting national security. And the solutions are complex, requiring innovative thinking and innovative partnerships.

I saw the importance of public-private partnerships firsthand when I traveled to Africa. I visited Faffa Foods in Ethiopia, a leading supplier of baby food in the country. Hundreds of African food companies - including Faffa Foods - have received assistance through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Partners for Food Solutions (PFS), a nonprofit program jointly founded by two Minnesota companies - General Mills and Cargill - and other food companies to share technology and expertise.

Chronic food insecurity and malnutrition are serious issues in Ethiopia, where two in five children are chronically malnourished. Lending expertise to a company like Faffa Foods doesn't just make nutritious food more readily available and affordable for children. It also has a multiplier effect by creating a market for smallholder farmers and boosting local incomes.

In turn, robust markets ultimately benefit American farmers by building functional supply chains and higher median household incomes. More money gives people around the world more ability to buy American products. The poorest two-thirds of the world's population represents $5 trillion in purchasing power. It's a huge opportunity for U.S. exports - if poverty can first be alleviated.

Minnesota-based Land O'Lakes, Inc., one of the largest farmer-owned cooperatives in the United States, recognizes this value. In 1981, it established a group solely focused on applying an integrated approach to international economic development that capitalizes on its expertise as a leading farm-to-market agribusiness. In Bangladesh, for example, Land O'Lakes worked with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and two local food processors to create nutritious cereal bars made from local ingredients. In one year, 17 million cereal bars were produced and distributed as a snack to provide an incentive for 100,000 children to attend school in an impoverished area of the country. Along with USDA, Land O' Lakes provided technical assistance that helped farmers improve their post-harvest handling and companies boost their food safety and manufacturing processes. By August of 2015, five years later, 20,000 farmers were employed as a result of the program. Their incomes have increased by $100 per year on average, which is significant in a country where the per capita income is currently $550.

Public-private partnerships can scale up best practices for improving production and create important market linkages between American agriculture and developing markets. They also foster innovation, which is critical for addressing food insecurity globally in the face of growing populations and increasing food demand. In fact, some economists estimate that we'll need as much innovation in agriculture in the next 40 years as in the past 10,000 years to meet the global hunger challenge. Public-private partnerships can pool resources and maximize the value of taxpayer dollars. My job is to be a steward of those dollars and ensure policies are in place that encourage innovation and leverage the strengths of partnerships.

We've made important progress in the past several years. We've seen the fastest reductions in malnutrition in several countries where these partnerships are at work - numbers that once seemed far out of reach. We must continue to build on this progress.

The history of American agriculture is an amazing story of innovation. With challenge comes opportunity, and I am confident that our farmers and companies can help solve food insecurity. Minnesotans are widely known for being “nice,” but we are also pragmatic. Being leaders in food security is not only the right thing to do - but also a thing we must do right.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Senator Amy Klobuchar is in her second-term representing the agriculturally rich state of Minnesota. In addition to the Joint Economic Committee, the Judiciary Committee, and the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, she sits on the Agriculture Committee. In the summer of 2014, she traveled to Africa with several other women Senators to witness first-hand the efforts of the U.S. government to advance international agricultural development, particularly as it relates to women and girls.   

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