03/30/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Better ROI for the World's Poor at Davos

The political, financial and intellectual power present at Davos provides the potential for so much good to be accomplished. The challenge is to make sure that Davos does not become a major disappointment but instead makes real progress towards using these resources to make a positive impact on the world, especially for those that do not have a seat at the table.

This year the participants of the 40th Annual World Economic Forum will be faced with a very ambitious theme: "Improve the State of the World: Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild." One of the major topics that will consume much of the attention of this year's meeting is how to avoid the financial crisis that led to the "Great Recession". While the restructuring of financial markets is indeed an important topic, we must actually focus on this question: How can we provide a better return-on-investment for the world's poor?

The key is addressing micro-nutrient deficiency, also known as hidden hunger. Before you switch-off -- "oh no, not another intractable development related problem" -- addressing Hidden Hunger is a major global problem, but addressing it is relatively simple and the benefits of doing so are massive. In fact, the Copenhagen Consensus, comprised of the world's most prominent economists, has concluded that of the 30 specific solutions to combat some of the world's most pressing problems, addressing micro-nutrient deficiency would be the single best investment. The return-on-investment would be a staggering 1:17; a far greater return for the world's poor than the benefits of improved financial regulations.

Today roughly 2 billion people around the world suffer from hidden hunger; which means they have sufficient calories, but lack the micro-nutrients essential for a healthy and productive life. The affects of hidden hunger are devastating on the individual and society as a whole. Hidden hunger leads to a higher prevalence of chronic diseases, higher mortality rates, high healthcare costs and lower productivity. The World Bank estimates that malnutrition costs developing countries up to 5% of GDP annually, and according to UNICEF there are 60 million children under 5 in India that are stunted because of Hidden Hunger.

So how do we Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild in relation to Davos and Hidden Hunger?

Agricultural reform will be critical but it will take time before these reforms start impacting on yield volumes and food quality. Also variable geographic and soil conditions mean that it will be impossible for agriculture to close the nutrition gap in every country. It is therefore essential that, in the short and long term, agricultural reform is accompanied by ongoing food fortification and supplement programs which are capable of delivering the specific vitamins and minerals required by particular population groups.

To take this forward, a number of things need to happen. Firstly, it's essential for the private sector to become more engaged. We need new forms of partnership which harness the expertise of IGOs and NGOs; the scientific advances of nutritionists; and the innovations and R&D of food and nutrition companies. We must breakdown the silos between private and public sectors, and all the various nutrition related stakeholders, and adopt a more coherent and integrated approach to tackling hidden hunger and delivering nutrition security.

The key lesson from DSM's partnership with the World Food Programme is that when the private sector is really engaged with IGOs on both the product and strategic levels, then real progress can be made. This can be seen in Haiti where DSM has been working very closely with the WFP to provide immediate emergency support and to develop a longer-term strategy for rebuilding the country's nutrition base.

Secondly, to get the private sector engaged and ensure a long-term solution to the problem of hidden hunger, we will need to build a business infrastructure for the development and investment in locally-based food and nutrition markets. To do this, international and national policy makers will need to work closely with business and other stakeholders to ensure that the necessary legal and regulatory frameworks are in place. Practically speaking, this means creating mechanisms through which large multi-nationals can identify and start working with local food manufacturers.

Thirdly, none of this will happen unless there is clear political commitment to address the problem of hidden hunger, which will of course need to be translated into concrete financial commitments. The Global Action Plan on Nutrition has called for $10.3bn per year to be made available. With a 1:17 ROI it's the best seed funding that could possibly be provided to the developing world.

Finally, as a private sector company we believe that what gets measured, gets done. This means setting ambitious, but realistic targets, and ensuring that the different stakeholders are accountable for delivering their part of the Hidden Hunger bargain.

We will certainly be pushing to make real progress and we hope to be joined by a chorus of other stakeholders that are ready to not just start talking but start doing. Only then can we call Davos a true success.