LOS CABOS, MEXICO — The B20 Task Force on Food Security last week unveiled a set of recommendations to improve global food security as part of a joint meeting of the G20 and B20 — the heads of state and government of the world’s 20 major econ omies, and the major business organizations of those nations. The Task Force met as part of the larger G20 Leaders’ Summit held June 18-19 in Los Cabos.
Daniel Servitje, chief executive officer of Grupo Bimbo S.A.B. de C.V. and co-chair of the Task Force, said the Mexican G20 presidency identified increasing agricultural productivity as the main theme of its work on food security, and the Task Force developed its recommendations responding to that goal. The recommendations place the farmer at the center of a new approach that seeks to simultaneously improve productivity, sustainability and economic opportunity through agriculture. Paul Polman, c.e.o. of Unilever and co-chair of the Task Force, said developing innovative approaches to environmentally sustainable agriculture, empowering smallholder farmers (particularly women), and addressing important issues such as nutrition and land rights also will be key to success. “The whole world is talking about the need to increase investment in agricultural production,” said Yayi Boni, president of Benin Republic and chair of the African Union. During his speech, Mr. Boni focused on African efforts to strengthen food security through national agricultural programs. He said governments have committed to a goal of spending 10% of the national budget on agriculture, and are seeking greater private-sector investment. Mr. Boni also encouraged the executives present to invest in Africa.
At the meeting, the B20 Task Force on Food Security offered actionable recommendations for achieving a 50% increase in production and productivity by 2030. The sectors represented by the Task Force plan to invest an additional $10 billion to $15 billion, expanding market and input access for 3 million to 5 million smallholder farmers, and improving the income and productivity of 2 million to 3 million women farmers.
Another commitment needed from industry, the Task Force said, is investments that ensure the sustainable use of resources, including farming inputs.
Meanwhile, the Task Force said it needs a number of commitments from the public sector, including a willingness from global governments to establish public-policy frameworks and incentives, as well as government investments to strengthen whole value chains by improving infrastructure, boosting productivity and reducing waste.
A second major recommendation put forth by the B20 Task Force was to strengthen national food security programs, supported by public-private partnerships.
“Governments can enable such partnerships through strong leadership by heads of state to drive public-private collaboration and action, ensuring that all stakeholders, including farmers, are fully engaged,” the B20 said. “Donor agencies and international organizations also play important roles by providing catalytic financial support and sharing best practices across regions. The private sector can deepen its engagement in such collaborative initiatives and share the lessons of efforts already under way.”
Mr. Servitje and Mr. Polman also were on a panel of executives who highlighted the “decisive role” businesses play in generating conditions that favor long-term global economic recovery. As part of the panel discussion, Mr. Servitje was asked why now is the right time to get involved in food security.
“First, c.e.o.s. are normal people,” he said. “We care about our families, we care about our teams in the company, we care about our countries and we care about issues that everybody cares about — so why shouldn’t we? The second thing is that we also have a broader context than politicians. We have a longer cycle of life I would say, and in that sense, some of the things we start working on as businesses can transcend those cycles. And then I would say that we could have a little bit more influence and more stability on some of these problems that we sometimes see faces changing on the other side of the table. The third thing is the large companies are increasing their relevance and influence on the world, and I think businesses also have to have this long-term view on the problems that are affecting society, and more importantly the ones that are affecting their business also. And that’s why in this case Paul (Polman)
and I got into this issue of trying to understand food security challenges.
“Personally I can tell you I learned a lot by working on the Task Force. I had a chance to meet people that I otherwise would not have had the opportunity to meet. That allowed me to reflect on the policies that the companies should have on this issue. By doing that, I would say that we were able to sort of start working on subjects that are important for the company in the long run and also allow us to have an influence on issues that are important for us as people.”
Mr. Polman pointed out that responsible capitalism for equitable and sustainable growth “has nothing to do with size.”
“It starts with all of us individuals,” he said. “You cannot have an equitable company if you don’t have an equitable leadership team.”
He added that transparency and trust are required to make something sustainable.
“So small or big companies have nothing to do with it,” he said. “We should get out of some of these comparisons, to break these paradigms. There are no restrictions for doing the right thing in life.”
Mr. Polman identified a few things that have changed over the past several years, starting with more people realizing that they have to become a responsible part of society and play a role in that.
“You see a lot of leaders changing, taking a longer term view,” he said. “Companies like ours have stopped quarterly reporting, stopped giving guidance, changing compensation systems. There’s enough critical mass of leaders that say ‘Hey the way we do business has to be slightly different.’”
Another change is people have come to realize that the issues at hand are just too big to handle in house, he said.