Reuters originally ran this opinion piece on 25 January 2012. To view the article, click here.
Last year was a milestone year for raising awareness and advancing a global dialogue about the challenge of doubling food production by 2050 to combat hunger and malnutrition and meet the needs of a fast-growing population. Recent attention paid to the birth of the 7 billionth human on earth did much to help drive this global conversation. But looking ahead to 2012 and beyond, our challenge – in fact our imperative – must be to translate this momentum into action.
In 2000, the United Nations member states, together with international organizations, challenged the world to come together to address the Millennium Development Goals, first among them being the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger. We now have but three short years remaining to meet these goals. While much has been debated about the analytics and measurements driving the goals themselves, the simple, incontestable fact is that to thrive — and in many cases to survive — we as a global society must address poverty and hunger.
The two problems are inextricably linked. And we must come together – CEOs and NGOs, those focused on increasing productivity and those focused on environmental sustainability – if we are to have any hope of being successful.
According to the World Food Program, hunger is the number one health risk in the world, killing more people than malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis combined. By 2050 there will be 9.5 billion people living on earth. Today, nearly 1 billion people are already suffering from hunger and malnutrition in some of the fastest growing regions of the world. The challenge of doubling food production by 2050 will become more difficult as key resources become increasingly scarce and a changing climate creates unforeseen obstacles.
There is broad-based support for tackling hunger, which has been a key point of discussion in leadership meetings including the G20 and the World Economic Forum as well as the United Nations General Assembly meetings. While we can point to significant strides in areas like combating malaria and access to education, the most recent Millennium Development Goals Report indicates that our progress in addressing hunger has plateaued, and may have worsened in some regions.
One of the biggest challenges we must overcome in addressing hunger is blending a technical approach to farming that increases productivity with an environmental approach that promotes sustainability. I am excited by recent advances by the private and public sectors in creating solutions for farmers that increase yields per acre while at the same time requiring fewer environmental resources — notably water, which is often so precious in developing countries. It is this type of innovation that will enable us to produce more from the same, if not a smaller, footprint on the planet. I am confident that with the right set of diverse partners around the table, we will continue to bring solutions to the farmers who feed us and provide the materials used to clothe us.
At Davos I will meet with leaders from other companies and representatives of governments and civil society groups as part of the initiative focused on sustainable agriculture called the New Vision for Agriculture Initiative. Monsanto is one of the 26 global partner companies of the World Economic Forum providing strategic leadership and championship of the initiative. This will be a great opportunity to work with our peers to build on the ideas put forward in 2011 at the World Economic Forum.
But it’s what happens after Davos that will make the difference: how we put our words and ideas into action. Throughout 2012 and beyond, governments, NGOs and my fellow corporate CEOs must pledge to keep the momentum going in combating the challenges that come with poverty.
International collaboration is critical because agriculture provides not only food but also essential commodities, services and social goods that facilitate economic growth. Bottom line: We can’t defeat poverty and hunger without all the stakeholders coming to the table and focusing on actions and compromise that result in change.
At the G20 Summit, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation presented a report titled “Innovation with Impact: Financing 21st Century Development,” which is essentially a road map for what countries must do to build on the progress already made in the developing world. The Gates report argues that lessening financial commitments now would irreparably damage the developing world and keeping aid commitments to it would essentially accelerate progress so developing nations will eventually no longer require outside aid. The report says that the private sector has an important role to play here too – creating the tools and opportunities for economic empowerment through the course of our work in developing nations. We couldn’t agree more, and know that many other companies that are making corporate responsibility a part of their everyday business operations agree with this as well.
Real solutions to global hunger challenges are needed now. The challenges are not getting smaller. Our company is proud to participate in this dialogue and will continue to encourage others to engage in this debate to create real change in 2012 and beyond. Let’s make a global promise to mitigate hunger once and for all.