May 22, 2014

Commentary - Advancing Sustainable Solutions for Global Access to Nutrition

By John Ginascol, Vice President, Global Supply, Abbott Nutrition
This post is part of a series produced by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, marking the occasion of its fifth Global Food Security Symposium 2014 in Washington, D.C., which will be held on May 22.

Given the unprecedented scale and scope of changes taking place around the world today—societal, climatic, technological—we need to be more strategic, active and cooperative than ever before to achieve the solutions we need for a healthy planet and thriving global society.

Let’s look at a single one of the major, worldwide challenges we face: food security—in terms of both safety and reliability of supply. No one organization—public or private—can address an issue of this magnitude alone; it requires an enormous, concerted, and multi-faceted effort from the broad global community. The Chicago Council Symposium offers a significant opportunity to explore the many emerging issues around food security, particularly as they pertain to climate change.

Increasing access to food for a growing global population is a major challenge, made even more complicated by the planet’s changing climate, which has the potential to affect both farmers and food companies in a multitude of ways.  Extreme weather patterns and water scarcity can challenge producers’ ability to source, operate, and distribute products around the world.

Despite the complexity of these challenges, Abbott and other food and nutrition companies are playing an important role in creating sustainable answers. These efforts take two primary forms: reducing direct environmental impact from manufacturing, and innovating new solutions to deliver better access to food through both operational improvements and partnerships with other committed organizations.

Reducing Environmental Impact

The most direct way companies can decrease their contribution to climate change is by reducing the environmental impact of their operations. Across Abbott, we are implementing targeted programs to reduce energy consumption and emissions with the broader goal of significantly shrinking our carbon footprint. For example, in our Nutrition business, Abbott launched a Utility Excellence program that aims to cut our utility usage by 50 percent by 2017. The program has already resulted in both cost savings and significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Innovating Solutions

To improve food security, food companies will need to create nutritious new products, and expand access to these products around the world. But, often there are other opportunities across a company's operations to have a positive impact as well. By adopting a new lens for thinking about community engagement, companies large and small can gain competitive advantage, while creating sustainable and scalable answers to address food security issues. To do so, we need to evolve thinking about business and how we can address societal issues throughout the value chain—from supply to finished product. This concept is often called shared value.

As an example, in India, Abbott is working to create shared value with suppliers and farmers, building on a new investment in local manufacturing. We set a goal to purchase 80 percent of our ingredients locally for our new plant in Jhagadia, India. To make this possible, we are providing farmers with education, training and access to technologies, so they can improve their infrastructure, enhance quality and increase quantity of local dairy production. In return, we are able to purchase a reliable supply of ingredients from these small-hold farms for our manufacturing facility. Local sourcing helps to keep prices down and improve the quality of our nutritional products, all of which helps us to more effectively provide access to nutrition for consumers around the world and to strengthen and support the local community.

Partnering for Progress

Finally, it’s important for companies to recognize that they can help expand access to nutrition through community partnerships as well. By finding the right strategic partners, multinational companies can apply their expertise and resources in targeted ways to make a sustainable impact. For example, Abbott has a long-standing partnership in Haiti with the leading non-profit group Partners In Health (PIH). Nutrition scientists, engineers, and other experts from across the company worked with PIH to construct a nutrition production facility to make Nourimanba, a peanut-based treatment for severe malnutrition in children. Sourcing peanuts from 300 local farmers, this facility is a model for how companies and civil society can work together to address food security issues and provide sustainable nutrition solutions.

Addressing food security is a critical and highly complex problem. Multinational companies—with their global resources, perspectives and relationships, and their high ability to innovate and execute against goals—are uniquely positioned to work toward new answers. We’re committed to working with partners—governments, NGOs, universities—to help create the sustainable solutions our global community needs.  Forums like the Chicago Council are essential links in this chain.



The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

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Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

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