Can the private sector end hunger?
The pros and cons of corporate involvement
A recent report by aid organization Oxfam caused a stir by pointing out that the world’s ten largest food companies – who reportedly make US$1 billion a day – are falling short on workers’ and farmers’ rights, the environment, and transparency about their supply chains.
Since many of these companies say they want to be part of the solution to hunger and poverty, Oxfam’s reporting can help hold them to account.
The United Nations recently issued a report called The Global Compact, which highlights a few areas where the private sector in general could play a role in ending hunger:
- Sustainable sourcing
Agriculture is the main source of income for 70 percent of the world’s rural poor. By sourcing from smallholder farmers, food companies can help reduce poverty. One of the problems is that product labels with claims of “sustainable” and “fair trade” are increasingly more difficult to verify when corporations keep their suppliers secret.
- Land and water management
Land and water are limited resources that are important to the global food system. Companies can invest in infrastructure to give small farmers access to things like efficient drip irrigation, and markets for their surplus produce.
- Using technology
Companies can invest in affordable communication technology for rural farmers to improve yields and distribution. For example, Vodafone launched a plan that allows farmers in Turkey to receive SMS alerts on weather and market prices. They also allow farmers to pay their phone bills once a year – after harvest.
- Reducing commodity price volatility
Severe price fluctuations – and changing weather patterns – can have a devastating impact on poor farmers. They need access to loans and financial aid to recover and cope with crop losses and price changes.
The food sector employs 80 percent of the world’s hungry people, pointing to great potential for this industry to make a difference. The food companies say they recognize their responsibilities, but Oxfam is asking that the rest of us keep the pressure on by monitoring them ourselves.
With 868 million people hungry and with global population still rising, it’s important to consider all possible ways of creating a more just and functional food system.