The Chicago Council is pleased to launch a new blog series, “Breaking Ground,” to explore how food systems innovation and agricultural research and development can empower farmers and feed the world.A special subsection of our series, “Field Notes,” features voices from Feed the Future Innovation Labs and CGIAR centers.
In today’s hyperconnected world, challenges felt in one region or country almost always have wider if not global repercussions, as we have seen with the outbreak of novel coronavirus, first identified in China.
The same is true for issues like hunger and malnutrition, natural disasters and agricultural pests. Such existential threats directly and indirectly impact international trade and economics, geopolitics, labor and even migration across borders.
If markets alone could solve these challenges, they would have done so by now. Yet these global issues are often also beyond the reach of public agencies, services and international organizations.
But when the strengths of both the private and public sectors are channeled together, it is possible to swing the pendulum of change, addressing issues in developing countries and preventing the ripple effects that reach us all to achieve our common goals.
As a largely publicly funded research institute, the International Potato Center (CIP) has established many different kinds of partnerships that thrive by identifying common threats and motivations. We are then able to leverage our world-class research to collectively help improve farm productivity, climate resilience, nutrition, and, overall well-being of small-scale farmers and their families.
Our approach has demonstrated that we have greater impact together, finding solutions for global challenges by uniting researchers, businesses and governments, and that no company is too big to ignore the global cost of hunger, malnutrition and poverty.
Some of these partnerships follow a traditional public-private sector model, in which companies invest in initiatives led by non-profits to support farmers and drive a more diverse range of profitable products.
Take Naivas and Tuskys, two of Kenya’s largest supermarkets. This initiative is helping develop sweetpotato-enriched bread to tackle vitamin A deficiency in Africa. It builds on earlier work in improving the nutrition of small-scale farmers on the continent. And in Kenya alone is now generating up to USD 1 million a year in sales and helping small farmers tap into a growing market for healthy food.
The potential of this work is far greater, and we expect these nutritious foods to be affordable to low-income families in the near future. Not only will the work help improve health standards, tackling a key preventable cause of childhood blindness, it will also help establish a market for sweetpotato, contributing to improved incomes for small-scale farmers, while also de-risking supply chains for food producers.
A second approach makes use of the private sector’s responsibilities to the wider social wellbeing of both their employees and consumers.
For example, local mining company Poderosa recognized the need to diversify the local economy in Peru to ensure that its operations could continue within a thriving, sustainable market.
To this end, Poderosa has backed an initiative to replace imported potatoes with national varieties in industrial processing. This leverages CIP’s expertise in potato genetics to develop varieties customized to address the needs of consumers and farmers, increasing potato productivity by up to 50 per cent and rural incomes by 25 per cent. This in turn supports better diets, health and wellbeing.
The company has acknowledged that the rural economy in Peru is the backbone of the country’s broader development, while contributing valuable funding to boost the harvests and incomes of farming families.
Finally, CIP has also worked with the Dutch potato breeding company HZPC using a mixed approach to achieve both business objectives and commitments to corporate social responsibility.
The company has supported grassroots indigenous farmer organizations in the Andes to preserve native varieties and protect agricultural biodiversity, which in turn also incentivizes adaptive conservation to address climate change.
Over the past five years, farmers participating in the AGUAPAN initiative have deployed conservation practices to safeguard more than 1,000 native potato varieties, involving 50 farming communities from five of Peru’s regions.
While in Vietnam and other Asian countries, CIP and HZPC are using the agrobiodiversity of the potato to develop varieties that address the needs of smallholder farmers.
This mixed approach will help improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable people around the world, by improving rural incomes, wellbeing, diets and health.
But not only do these partnerships help tackle the root of our global challenges, they also prevent the wider consequences that hold us back from a safer, healthier, more equitable world for everyone.
If we are serious about achieving our global goals for sustainable development, we cannot afford to continue seeing the public and private sector at odds. Instead, we must find ways to identify our common threats and then develop the shared approaches to tackling them.
In the 21st century hyperconnected economy, there is no such thing as an isolated crisis, but we can develop the innovative partnerships to confront them together.