Addressing CEO's of global food firms at a conference on food security, Jacques Diouf from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in Milan last week that "with privatisation, globalisation and the transformation of the food chain from the farm to the table, the importance of the private sector has increased."
With one billion people hungry in the world, the largest gathering organised for the private sector by the FAO sought to draw the global food industry into the dialogue on food insecurity. Finding solutions to the problem of hunger is growing every more pressing as the world population increases, food production struggles to keep a pace, and concerns over water scarcity accelerate.
Added to these factors are the soaring food prices of 2008 that sparked off economic instability and social unrest across the world in countries ranging from Haiti to Mexico and India.
“We have to be aware that the challenge we are facing in the years to come goes far beyond the food insecurity for the one billion people that go hungry to bed. We therefore have to be quite bold when discussing solutions,” Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman of Nestlé, the world's biggest food firm, told conference attendees.
Nestle chairman: five point strategy to tackle hunger
Brabeck-Letmathe identified five major challenges to overcome long-term global food insecurity. The first is to produce the necessary quantities of basic calories and proteins in a sustainable way, the second to generate reliable incomes for farmers: an income that, he noted, is not linked to "increasing subsidies and artificially high prices."
Keeping prices safe and affordable for the low-income consumers is also "necessary", underlined Brabeck-Letmathe, as is the quality of food, that together represent a significant "role for industry".
And by extension, "supplying food at the right time, in the right form, at the right place – is another important task for companies," he added.
But above all, the Nestle chairman concluded that the most important challenge to "sustainable production of food is water".
And in a statement released at the end of the two day forum, the CEO's of the food firms stressed the 'strong commitments' needed by national governments to "establish fair, transparent and predictable regulatory frameworks" that would enable local and international firms "to confidently invest along the whole food chain".
The UN organised World Food Summit kicks off on Monday in Rome: the first world food summit in seven years - and only the fourth since the first event in 1974 - follows the food crises of 2008 that prompted food riots in about 60 countries in the world.