Ending world hunger IS possible. Davos is part of the process.
In a few days, I'll be heading to the small snowy town of Davos Switzerland, site of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF). Despite a few comments from friends and family about how cool it would be to meet Bono, that's not why I am going. (Not to say it wouldn't be awesome if our paths happened to cross of course...because he has personally done so much to address world hunger and because well... he's Bono... and I'm just human. But, that's clearly not sufficient reason to warrant the trip.)
No, despite what you might think, the truth is that those who go to Davos go with a purpose. As I am in business, I go with a business agenda... a broad agenda that can only be addressed through the collective action of companies, countries and civil society. Davos is one of few events that puts leaders from all three sectors together in thought-provoking and meaningful discussions that can lead to real action on the ground. So, while it may sound like fun to those who have never been, those who have participated know it's really just a lot of work... worthwhile, important work.
This year, I'll be there to listen, to share what we've learned as Kraft Foods and to urge action to tackle three of the greatest challenges facing the world today: food security, environmental degradation and economic development. What will we be asking leaders to do? Simply put... invest more in agriculture.
Yes, as outlined in a roadmap called "A New Vision for Agriculture" which will be released on Jan 28, the latest news in solving the age-old problems of hunger and malnutrition is...well, not new. In fact, it's the lesson of the past forty years. Where investment in agriculture has been a priority, prosperity has followed. Just look at how the "green revolution" sparked economic growth and lifted millions in Latin America and Asia out of poverty. Smart investments in agriculture reduced malnutrition rates while improving farmer livelihoods and farm communities. Conversely, look at that same period in Africa, where the "green revolution" failed to take root. For too much of the continent the result has been persistent famine, political strife and economic collapse. Of course I'm over simplifying it to make my point, but the fact remains that much of the world's failure to make lasting improvements in addressing hunger and malnutrition has been due to the well-intended but, in hindsight, misguided development policies that drove investment out of the agriculture sector.
It's no coincidence that the UN estimates that of the billion people in the world today who are hungry or malnourished nearly 70 percent are engaged in the agriculture sector. Failed crops, low yields, lack of viable markets and poor infrastructure... all these have contributed to a situation where millions of farmers can neither feed their families nor make a living. And, even where agriculture is thriving, we should be concerned about its environmental impacts, which include nearly 70 percent of worldwide water withdrawals and up to 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. But regardless of the reasons, the simple fact is that the agriculture sector isn't working effectively enough in many parts of the world nor as a global system. And, we are all suffering because of it.
It doesn't need to be this way. Fixing agriculture -- and in turn banishing hunger and malnutrition -- is clearly possible. We just need to change our mindset and our vernacular. We need to stop referring to insurmountable challenges as being "like solving world hunger." Because solving world hunger is NOT insurmountable. The capacity and capability to do this exists today. And against this new perspective, we then need to apply sustained collective action and demonstrated political will.
The private sector is clearly part of the solution. And here, I'm not talking philanthropy. I'm talking business. If you'll let me use an example from my own company, Kraft Foods, I think you'll see what I mean. We are already the largest buyer of Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade certified cocoa in the world. And now, working with others, we're collectively investing nearly $100 million in a bunch of sustainable agriculture initiatives. This work will improve the lives and livelihoods of more than 1 million farmers in the developing world. That's important. But, we invest not just because it's "the right thing to do." We invest because we know that if we can improve the social, environmental and economic status of farmers then they will keep growing the high quality ingredients we need to make our delicious products, like the cocoa we use in our Milka and Cadbury chocolates.
Investing in agriculture is not a quick or easy fix. But, I believe it is the BEST investment we can make to simultaneously improve food security, environmental sustainability and economic opportunity. Whether it's cocoa or coffee, soy or sugar, the goal is the same: new and unprecedented collaboration between farmers, companies, governments and civil society, with governments setting the direction, businesses investing and innovating and civil society mobilizing the community.
History has shown that investing in agriculture drives a virtuous cycle. The lessons are clear, but there is a missing ingredient -- more action! That's what I'll be pushing for at Davos and I hope others will not only listen but get engaged. If that happens, then, even if I don't meet Bono, the trip will have been more than worthwhile!
Note: If you want to see how it goes at Davos, you can follow along on the WEF website where lots of the discussions are broadcast live. There are also lots of ways you can get directly involved in fighting hunger and supporting sustainable agriculture -- from buying certified cocoa and coffee products to supporting the World Food Program. With something this big, it's clear that everyone has a role to play. Find the one that works for you!
Perry Yeatman is an SVP at Kraft Foods Inc. and President of the Kraft Foods Foundation. She is also the award-winning author of Get Ahead by Going Abroad.
Follow Perry Yeatman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@perryyeatman