Private investors play key role in food security: report

A recent CSIS report says that private sector investment in agriculture can help efforts to meet the food security goals set out by the United Nations.

Private investment into agriculture is needed to bolster efforts to meet the UN’s food security-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to a recent report.

Recurring Stormspublished by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) earlier this month, the report details how the food price spikes of 2007/08 led to increased attention on food security and predicts the recurrence of acute incidents of food insecurity in the future.

The report, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, states that in addition to helping to bring in much-needed agricultural inputs and services, private sector involvement in agriculture can play an important role by deepening market orientation and economic sustainability of public investments in the sector.

It highlights specifically the role of initiatives such as Grow Africa and the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which are designed to increase collaboration among private sector firms, financial institutions and governments.

The report’s author, Emmy Simmons, senior non-resident advisor to the CSIS Food Security Project, told Agri Investor that many of the report’s themes are particularly relevant in Africa, a continent that a UN Food and Agriculture Organization official recently estimated contains 60 percent of the world’s non-cultivated lands.

She said that local governments in Africa would be well-served to help facilitate private sector investments by agreeing to share some degree of financial risk on agricultural projects and by improving overall provision of services such as transportation, energy and management of the economy.

“In most of Africa, there’s a long way to go, post-conflict, to actually have an investable project that is coherent and well-managed,” Simmons said. “But there are ways to invest, as in post-conflict Ethiopia, to get one’s feet wet.”

In the report, Simmons addresses Liberia, where private investors rushed in too quickly to invest in palm oil and timber projects that very quickly left 53 percent of the country’s total area covered by concessionary agreements with foreign investors.

Conversely, the report highlights Mozambique and Croatia as positive examples of governments that were able to work with foreign investors in privatizing assets in a way that attracted foreign capital.

Simmons concludes in the report that, despite the increased attention on food security, the UN’s SDGs of ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture by 2030 are unlikely to be met.

“The ambitious and interdependent global goals embodied in the SDGs seem to be seriously at odds with the realities of food security, conflict and political instability seen today,” she wrote.