MILAN, ITALY — If reducing global food insecurity is to be achieved, it will require a bold approach that includes action and measures that actually change expectations, said Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman of Nestle S.A. Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe spoke Nov. 12 and 13 in Milan at the Private Sector Forum held in advance of the World Food Summit hosted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
The private sector, rather than government or other agencies, will play the central role in alleviating food insecurity, Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe said. He took advantage of the forum to censure "well-fed" critics of technologies that help alleviate hunger.
The forum was created to provide the private sector with an arena to exchange views about the challenges, risks and possible drivers of a future food crisis, and to identify solutions in which companies may contribute.
In Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe’s opinion, the solution entails a broad strategy.
"Whatever the tools, there are high expectations for a strong leadership role from the F.A.O.," he said. "There is also a willingness of the private sector to be actively involved and to participate, where it actually can add value. We have to be aware that the challenge we are facing in the years to come goes far beyond the food insecurity for one billion people that go to bed hungry. We therefore have to be quite bold when discussing solutions."
Mr. Brabeck-Lethmathe, who has been a critic of the European Union’s common agricultural policy and a longtime proponent of bioengineered food, called the widening disparity in food intake "ugly," and pointed to several factors driving the trend, including hostility toward new technologies.
"In the last 10 years, there has been virtually no growth in per hectare productivity in Europe," he said. "And European fears are affecting other continents, too. It cannot be that the well-fed decide about the use and non-use of new technologies at the expense of those who are starving."
He identified five major challenges to overcoming long-term global food security, beginning with the ability to produce the necessary quantities of basic calories and proteins in a sustainable way.
Secondly, Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe said it is necessary to generate reliable incomes for farmers without dependence on increasing subsidies and artificially high prices.
Third, he said focusing on the affordability of food for low-income consumers is necessary.
Fourth, he said industry must highlight the quality of food, including safety.
Finally, Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe pointed to the need to be able to supply food at the right time, in the right form, at the right place.
Digging deeper into sustainable production of food, Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe stressed the challenge of water, and how important it is for companies to find ways to overcome an unsustainable use of water in farming.
"We as a company were involved from the very beginning, and see a role for private companies with its own efforts and advice within the context of such a strategy," he said. He added that private companies also must be able to provide better and more stable incomes for farmers and rural workers.
Looking beyond the challenges to the solutions, Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe said the F.A.O. has an important role to play, as does the private sector not only from a production standpoint, but also in establishing links between farmers and consumers.
"A product innovation is only relevant if it is of interest to the consumers," he said.
The private sector needs to continue to work on ways to bring food more efficiently to consumers, he noted, whether that be by reducing losses in the supply chain or through increasing value.
"Let us be very clear: further declarations are not enough; we need action, and measures that actually change expectations and lead to sound long-term food security," he said.