Q&A: Engage All Stakeholders to Beat Hunger in 2016+

Q&A: Engage All Stakeholders to Beat Hunger in 2016+

January 12, 2016

The outgoing chairman of the United Nations Committee on World Food Security (CFS), Gerda Verburg, says the key to tackling food and nutrition security is to bring all stakeholders together – from the private sector, to civil society, to government. We asked her how the approach worked in 2015 and what should happen in 2016.

Why was 2015 significant for global efforts on food and nutrition security?

2015 was a very special year because we reached an international agreement on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Particularly important for me was that sustainable agriculture, food security and nutrition were all interlinked for the first time under the second SDG. In fact, these three focus areas were carried through most of the 17 SDGs.

A very important aspect of the SDG agreement was that governments finally called on participation from the private sector and civil society. This is a great move. There must be recognition that governments cannot improve things on their own. To achieve our collective goals, we need to bring stakeholders with us.

You were chair of CFS for two years. What were your greatest achievements?

I was able to convince skeptical government representatives that there is great value in bringing different stakeholders to the table to discuss our issues. I am Dutch and multi-stakeholder work is in my DNA. If we don’t work together, things just don’t work. All stakeholders need to understand each other and step into each others’ shoes. When you increase understanding, you build trust and can tackle the challenges together. It is often a time-consuming process requiring hard negotiations, but when you work to reach consensus everyone involved takes ownership of the project. This approach was right for me, and I could make it happen. We went further than I could have dreamed over the two years, but we still need to go further.

How can the private sector engage more?

When I started as CFS chairman, I said to the Private Sector Mechanism [the PSM is a permanent seat at CFS for private enterprises to engage in discussions] that they were grouped around primary agricultural sectors and needed to expand their base to include more food value chain members. I know CropLife International has been a very active member of the PSM and I know an expansion in PSM membership has happened, but it must also broaden to bring in more small and medium enterprises, for example.

You mention the importance of compromise to achieve the SDGs. Can you given an example?

If the private sector wants to be taken seriously and to contribute to the SDGs it should ask, what can it bring to the table? For me, there are two important topics to think about. First there needs to be an open discussion on intellectual property and plant breeders’ rights. And secondly on biotech crops, I think there is still much progress to make. We need all actors to come together to see under what conditions plant biotechnology can contribute.

How can we move the plant biotechnology issue forward?

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has recently organized conferences on organic agriculture and agroecology, as many people are convinced that these approaches will feed the world. But with my background and knowledge I know we need to make use of all technology in order to take care of soil, water and land and increase yields, nutrition and incomes. So what is the best box of tools for the farmer? I am pleased that the FAO will host a biotechnology symposium in February this year. It will be an excellent opportunity to bring opponents to the table. If the parties don’t want to consider the entire suite of available tools then they shouldn’t be involved.

What do you see for 2016 and beyond? 

I look around the world and see conflict and tension, but at the same time I see new alliances and new opportunities to make things better. Of course food and water are not the only reason for conflict, but sustainable peace cannot be built without food and nutrition security. And you cannot have food and nutrition security without peace – the two are interlinked. By working together on multi-stakeholder platforms like the SDGs and bringing together governments, industry, civil society and non-governmental organizations, we can continue to make a real difference this year and beyond.

*Gerda Verburg is the Dutch Ambassador to the United Nations organizations for Food and Agriculture in Rome: the FAO, World Food Program and International Fund for Agricultural Development. She is also trustee and Chair of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Food and Nutrition Security. She was chair of the UN Committee on World Food Security for two years from 2013-2015.