09/01/2015 07:17 GMT | Updated 10/03/2015 05:59 GMT

Improving Nutrition: Private Sector's Place at the Table

A stunted child in Kenya struggles to keep up in school. An anemic mother in Bangladesh gives birth prematurely. An overweight businessman in Germany experiences heart troubles. These are the many faces of malnutrition, an economic and public health crisis that impacts people in every country.

We can improve nutrition on a global scale, and the private sector has a crucial and unique role in getting us there.

Today, more than two billion people suffer from one or more micronutrient deficiencies, while over half a billion are obese. Most countries are experiencing these complex, overlapping malnutrition burdens; in fact, fewer than 20 countries have only one of these forms of malnutrition.

This "new normal" in nutrition was brought to light by the first-ever Global Nutrition Report, published in November. At the center of the report's ensuing recommendations is the premise that good nutrition is key to economic development. Last year, Save the Children found that children who are well nourished go on to earn 20 percent more as adults than their malnourished peers. And economic experts at the Copenhagen Consensus Center found that every dollar spent on nutrition in the first 1,000 days of a child's life can generate an average of $45 in benefits.

Yet access to good nutrition remains low. According to the Global Nutrition Report, only 22 out of 109 countries can be expected to meet reduction targets set forth by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the World Health Assembly (WHA) targets.

Despite these sobering statistics, the will to improve nutrition is here.

At the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) in November, more than 170 governments signed on to a Framework for Action, making a number of commitments and adopting recommendations aimed at ensuring all people have access to healthier and more sustainable diets. And at the 2013 Nutrition for Growth Summit, more than 30 corporations, including DSM, joined governments and civil society in signing the Global Nutrition for Growth Compact. The private sector specifically committed to placing good nutrition at the core of their business practice, and to improving the nutrition delivered by food systems.

The road to good nutrition will require collaboration across multiple sectors - from NGOs to civil society to government. And the private sector has a role to play and unique contributions to make, from product development to supply chain management to consumer behavior.

Public-private partnerships are one key way the private sector is already improving nutrition. For example, in 2012, the Government of Kenya entered into a five-year partnership with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), Population Services International (PSI) and several private sector partners, including DSM, to reduce widespread micronutrient deficiencies by reaching 27 million people with fortified food products. The partnership exemplifies what can be achieved when the public and private sectors work together. When governments establish an enabling environment for fortification, the private sector can implement it and entire countries benefit from access to healthier and more nutritious diets.

Many in the private sector are committed to forging partnerships with organizations to advocate for and deliver micronutrients to populations at risk. In 2007, DSM and the World Food Programme (WFP) entered into a partnership to improve the nutritional intake of children under 5 and pregnant and lactating women. In 2013, the partnership reached 20.6 million people in Latin America, South Asia, Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa with improved food products such as micronutrient powders (MNPs) and fortified cereals. The partnership is on track to reach 25-30 million beneficiaries by the end of 2015.

Public-private partnerships amount to more than the sum of their parts because they leverage the unique strengths of the organizations involved. In this case, DSM provided scientific and technical expertise, products and financial assistance, while WFP contributed beneficiary insight, local stakeholder connections, food value chain knowledge and a broad food distribution network.

This is the kind of cross-sector collaboration the world needs to tackle malnutrition.

Achieving nutrition targets cannot be accomplished by government and civil society alone; the private sector also has an important role to play in creating sustainable access to good nutrition for all.

The world is waiting. Let's deliver.