Thought Leaders At Davos Discuss How To Ensure Food Security

At a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran led a panel of experts including philanthropist Bill Gates in a conversation about global food security. Panelists addressed the need to help small farmers raise production and the vital role played by the private sector in linking farmers to markets.

DAVOS – The daunting challenges and tremendous opportunities of ensuring global food security was the topic of a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum, featuring some of the leading voices in the fight against hunger and moderated by WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran.

Panelists included philanthropist Bill Gates, Unilever CEO Paul Polman, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva, French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire, Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and Swiss Re CEO Stefan Lippe.

Kicking off the discussion, Sheeran posed the question: “Is hunger and malnutrition a Malthusian nightmare that will hit us like a brick wall as global demand for food skyrockets over the next few decades, or an unprecedented opportunity to create jobs and value through the entire food supply chain with smarter technologies, and a better way to reach those who’ve been left out of food security?

Here were some of the highlights from the discussion:

  • “Agriculture is back on the international agenda at the highest level,” said Bruno Le Maire, Minister of Agriculture, Food, Fishing, Rural Affairs and Spatial Planning of France. “If we want to support the fight against hunger, we need the support of private investors. We need to keep the focus on the question of food security; hunger is an economic issue for the whole world.”

  • “Investing in agriculture brings one of the highest returns you can have,” said Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever and Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2012.

  • “The opportunity to double or triple agricultural productivity is there,” said Bill Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Now, the voice of the poor in market systems is very weak.”

  • “The link between smallholder farmers and the larger agriculture industry is critical to scaling up nutrition and market access,” said Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance of Nigeria. “Africa can feed itself, but it is a question of increasing food access for the most vulnerable people.”

  • “Poor rural farmers need better access to resources, better employment, lower food prices, more food production and more food stocks, including emergency reserves,” said José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. “I’m confident that we can feed the whole world. The problem is not supply—it is access to food and to natural resources like land and water. We need to figure out how to feed the world without depleting our natural resources.”

  • “What can we do as private institutions to help farmers produce food?” asked Stefan Lippe, CEO of Swiss Re. “The tools are available for financial institutions to help farmers, such as access to credit, insurance and re-insurance, investments and subsidies, but they need to be scaled up.”