The Blog

Why Davos Can Nourish Conversations, Partnerships... and People Too

It is high time we consigned the disturbing numbers of people who are malnourished to yesteryear and instead looked forward toward a brighter future where these problems are defeated thanks to effective, and relentless, public-private partnerships (PPPs).

As glasses are raised and finger food is nibbled on at Davos this year (shorthand for the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum), all those present - myself included - would do well to remember that one in eight people do not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life, making hunger and malnutrition the number one risk to health worldwide.

This reality lead me to make a [New Year's] resolution on behalf of myself and DSM, the Life Sciences and Materials Sciences company I work for: to redouble our efforts to help rapidly and decisively scale up initiatives that combat malnutrition and hunger.

Let us be clear: at least 2billion people around the world still lack the nutrients they need to live healthy, active and economically productive lives, even if they have access to enough calories to survive. The effects of this hidden hunger are rife in the developing world, where poverty and poor nutrition are a devastating combination, locking generations into a downward spiral of stunting, poor health and economic hardship.

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies account for an estimated 7% of the global disease burden, while iron, vitamin A and zinc deficiencies rank among the top 10 leading causes of death due to disease in developing countries. The mental development in 40% - 60% of infants in the developing world is impaired due to nutrition insecurity and micronutrient deficiency. Micronutrient supplementation and fortification have been ranked as the top development investments by the Copenhagen Consensus; indeed, malnutrition can lower a nation's GDP by some 2% - 3%.

It is high time we consigned the disturbing numbers of people who are malnourished to yesteryear and instead looked forward toward a brighter future where these problems are defeated thanks to effective, and relentless, public-private partnerships (PPPs).

Doing so requires an understanding of our current context; examples of scalable projects and partnerships that already exist and recommendations for further actions.

A recent report by Plan International and the Overseas Development Institute reveals that women and girls are hardest hit by the global recession, with girls' infant mortality on the rise, and more females being abused or starved. Girls and women are eating less at home to ensure the primary "breadwinner" can eat enough. Malnutrition and hunger thrive on these kinds of conditions and severely set back efforts to reach UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

So, let's take a look at what is working on the ground already, with an emphasis on the need to now move from pilots to large-scale activities using PPPs - the only conceivable way to effectively tackle a problem the size of global malnutrition.

At Davos, we announced DSM will be extending its existing six year partnership with the United Nation's World Food Programme (WFP), the world's largest humanitarian organization fighting hunger, for another three years (to 2015) to combat hidden hunger and malnutrition in the developing world. Together, we will seek to double the number of people who benefit from our work from the current annual reach of 15 million to 25-30 million per year by 2015.

Our PPP with WFP, in place since 2007, has contributed to improving the diets of people, using essential vitamins, nutrients and fortified rice, in countries that include Nepal, Kenya, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. And the strengthened partnership will focus on pregnant and nursing women, young children and vulnerable households.

Through our partnership with the WFP, we've also studied how rice can be fortified using our advanced technology and delivered it to those in need. As the world's most important staple, rice is eaten by 2 billion people virtually every day, making up 20% of the planet's caloric intake. Unfortunately, while rice in its basic form may deliver calories it contains none of the major micronutrients essential for healthy development and growth.

The costs involved in fortifying rice are very modest, adding 2%-5% of the current price of rice, and are far outweighed by increased productivity and reduced healthcare costs. In other words, rice can be transformed into a solution for malnutrition in the developing world.

Given our long-standing expertise in developing the right micronutrient compositions, we have lent our expertise to the long-running Mercy Corps established social enterprise KeBAL - a healthy street food social enterprise that provides nutritious meals to Jakarta's children in urban poor neighborhoods. Indeed, we will help grow KeBAL by transforming it into a viable and attractive franchise concept that delivers nutritious meals, with scalable potential for replication in other parts of Indonesia and across the world.

In December 2012 the Future Fortified global nutrition campaign announced that in partnership with DSM, it reached its fundraising goal to provide more than 20,000 children aged 6 to 24 months in Kenya with vital home nutrition packets (MixMe™), making it easy for mothers to sprinkle vitamins and minerals onto their children's meals - nourishing them for mere pennies every day.

Despite our long track record in improving nutrition and meeting the nutritional needs of the most vulnerable population groups around the globe, we understand there is no "one size fits all" solution.

So, what's to be done? A number of helpful suggestions were made during a high-level breakfast session hosted by DSM at Davos on January 24, with input from key stakeholders including the WFP, World Vision, the UN, Unilever, GAIN and DSM CEO Feike Sijbesma:

- Key stakeholders must do more: food companies have to engage more widely, particularly at national levels, while governments can assume their responsibilities by creating multi-sectoral approaches that link agriculture with the health sector.

- Meanwhile, the transition from individual pilot projects ("boutique solutions") to large-scale impact can be further facilitated by activating markets.

- Nutrition must be on the G8's agenda and feature prominently in the post-MDG agenda. Stakeholders must work harder and more effectively to raise the visibility of malnutrition as a pressing and entirely solvable issue.

Delivering on this New Year's resolution to end global hunger and malnutrition will indeed continue to require the support and input of the movers and shakers that attend Davos. But, perhaps most importantly, we will need your involvement too if we're to ensure that this particular resolution is not one we continue to make, and fail to keep, year after year.