Strengthening the Quality of Partnerships to Improve the Quality of Diets: Experts Share their Insights

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emphasize that businesses have an important role to play in achieving development targets by 2030. This is true for SDG 2 on hunger and malnutrition reduction because the vast majority of food is delivered to the poor and undernourished through markets. Along with consumers, businesses –including farmers, food processors, wholesalers and retailers — are the most numerous stakeholders in food systems. Therefore, engaging with businesses is vital if we want food systems to deliver safe nutritious foods at prices that low income families can afford. To date, the quality of engagement has been weak. Why does it need to be strengthened, what needs to be done to do that, and who needs to do it?

It is in this framework that the GAIN hosted the event ‘How to Strengthen the Quality of Engagement between Governments and Businesses to Improve the Quality of Diets?’ on Monday, 5 June 2017 in London.

The event, coinciding with the annual meeting of the GAIN Board of Directors and Partnership Council members, brought together development experts to explore different approaches to addressing the above questions.

“Strengthening the quality of engagement between governments and businesses to improve the quality of diets is at the heart of GAIN’s new strategy” said Joachim von Braun, GAIN Vice Chair of the Board of Directors, in his opening remarks. “When we look at what government and governance do to nutrition, we see that reducing corruption and increasing voice and accountability – two very important governance indicators – can significantly help to improve nutrition outcomes. So, we need movement on the government’s side and not only on the business side to promote the creation of new, innovative and strong alliances, with the support of civil society”, he added.

“Why is the quality of diets such a big deal?” asked Lawrence Haddad, GAIN’s Executive Director, who moderated the discussion. “Because one in three people suffer from some form of malnutrition and poor diet is the number one risk factor in the global burden of disease”. He pointed out that there is no food system without businesses. “If we are interested in shaping diets and making healthy foods more available and affordable, we have to engage with businesses”, he said.

Lawrence then asked the panelists to answer the following questions:

1) What are the opportunities that we miss by not engaging with businesses?

2) What are the evidence, tools, approaches, mind-sets, partnerships that we need to effectively engage with the private sector to improve the quality of diets?

In her presentation, Lauren Landis, Director of Nutrition, World Food Programme, talked about WFP’s strong culture of working with the private sector, including small and middle income local enterprises. “In 2015, WFP bought 1.1 billion dollars of food, but about 781 million came from developing nations and often from smallholders farmers.

We found out that we were buying from 79 different countries and that our demand could actually create a market for smallholder farmers. By promising to procure more locally, we could build even more work with the local private sector”, she said.

Adebimbe Adebiyi, Director of Family Health, Ministry of Health, Nigeria, highlighted that while we need to have robust partnerships between public and private sector with shared objectives and mutual accountability, we also need the right investments in food production. She also reiterated the importance of the advancing the integration between food systems and health systems.

“I’ve learned the hard way what unites us and what divides us, especially in the field of nutrition”, said Bev Postma, Chief Executive Officer, HarvestPlus, in her talk. “There are no silver bullets when it comes to partnerships or solving difficult problems; all I can do is share a few takeaways: 1) You need a coalition of the willing in order to have a successful partnership; 2) You need an honest broker and a change maker to make partnership successful; 3) Too many partnerships fail because they seek full consensus on complicated issues – always remember the 60/40 rule; 4) Put aside any institutional or personal ego and focus on the bigger win.”

In his response, Obey Assery Nkya, Prime Minister’s Office, United Republic of Tanzania, outlined the important role of the private sector within the entire food system at the production, process, retail and distribution levels. “If we don’t engage with businesses, we are missing the opportunity to bring quality foods in the market and therefore compromising the nutrition of our population” he pointed out. “We should engage different types of companies, for example the media, in the fight against malnutrition and not only those involved in the food industry, he added.

Lastly, Mauricio Adade, President of DSM Latin America, highlighted that partnerships, in order to be successful, “need to have two elements: vision and resilience”, along with clear accountability and definition of roles. He also stressed the importance of focusing on the quality of food products when we talk about promoting healthier diets.

In her closing remarks, Vinita Bali, GAIN’s Chair of the Board of Directors, stated, “We need to make to make the complex topic of ‪malnutrition easier to understand. Because nutrition is such a complex subjects that cuts across different areas, one of the challenges in building partnerships is to figure out a way of making nutrition more understandable to everyone, not only those involved in the sector.”

Watch the full video of the event here

Follow GAIN on TwitterFacebook

Published 20 June 2017