Good for business and poor people? The role of the private sector in tackling under-nutrition” – Second Seminar in “Driving private sector for public good” series with IDS and APPG Debt, Aid & Trade

Last week TOP co-hosted the second in a series of meetings on business and development alongside the Institute of Development Studies and the APPG on Debt, Aid and Trade. Chaired by Lord Cameron and supported by the APPG on Agriculture & Food for Development, this event looked at how business can make the most effective contribution to tackling under-nutrition, examined the role of public-private partnerships and explored the best ways for policymakers and civil society to help create an environment that both supports business involvement and tackles under-nutrition for the world’s poorest.

A decade on from the inaugural event, world leaders are preparing to come together in Rome for the second international conference on nutrition to review global progress.  With 805 million people in the world chronically undernourished there is still some way to go to eliminate under-nutrition, especially in Africa and South Asia.  Much has been made of the role that business can play in accelerating progress – especially through providing nutritious foods – but are these expectations well placed?

Professor John Humphrey from IDS stressed that nutrition is one of the most problematic development issues to tackle – despite progress on some MDGs, nutrition is lagging behind. There is an increasing interest in the role of the private sector and what it can bring to the table. Aid agencies need to think about how they should position themselves to support private sector initiatives. Given the enormity of the nutrition challenge there is a tendency to adopt a scattergun approach, but this is the wrong approach because it is resource intensive.

He emphasised that distribution costs make up 50-70% of the cost of products. PPPs could help alleviate the challenge of affordability and availability by facilitating distribution, establishing credibility of products and overcoming market challenges. There is also a key role for public policy in creating and supporting an enabling environment for businesses to produce and distribute foods that are important to human development. Role of government in protection of Intellectual Property Rights, protection against fraud, better infrastructure to reduce distribution costs, improving agricultural supply to reduce input costs and promotion of nutritional awareness in the population.

Jonathan Tench from the Scaling Up Nutrition Business Network described the SUN business model which comprises a country-ownership and multi-stakeholder approach. The Business Network helps countries to identify the entry point for business in their national strategies and supports the countries in their engagement with the private sector.

He said that the analysis of 20 country national strategies revealed little inclusion of the private sector or recognition of market-based solutions to nutrition. Going forward there needs to be more focus from the outset on the beneficiaries and seeing them as consumers. What can be learnt from other scenarios where companies are tapping into consumer aspirations?

Taryn Barclay spoke about Cargill’s work to increase the nutritional value of food, to improve access to nutritional food for those most in need and to collaborate with others to increase scale and impact. Cargill is doing this through support food fortification programmes and support for national food banks, both of which has galvanised other corporate partners to do the same.

Businesses have developed new ways of increasing scale and impact by identifying new ways of marketing their products i.e. in Honduras a fleet of refrigerated trucks deliver poultry to small rural shops to reduce the price of chicken. They are also starting to work with farming communities to find new ways to implement nutrition interventions i.e. to plant additional or alternative crops.

Rose Caldwell of Concern Worldwide emphasised the need for NGOs to abandon their historic distrust of the private sector, which is not helpful. It is not about good guys and bad guys but about moving on to engage with the private sector. There is a need to be honest from the start about what each partner can and cannot do and the different motivators.

Concern Worldwide works with the private sector every day at both a programme level i.e. access to markets and at a funding level i.e. research and evidence gathering essential to prove the impact and scale it up. NGOs will have to look increasingly at contracting, particularly with DFID procurement.

There are also many indirect impacts on nutrition e.g. a cash-transfer programme in Kenya to provide a safety net during the hunger period. The programme had a direct impact on nutrition and allowed people to buy a much more varied diet than would have been possible with food aid. The private sector provided the technology, the hardware and the training to remote rural areas, which would have been inaccessible with food aid. However, the biggest question is whether the poorest of the poor can be reached through the private sector because there are no profit margins at that level.


This is the second in a series of meetings organised by the APPGs on Trade Out of Poverty and Debt, Aid and Trade together with the Institute of Development Studies on business and development. Drawing on practical case studies in the fields of food and nutrition, health and the green transformation, this series will bring together parliamentarians, civil society, business and academia to examine how UK development policy needs to evolve to ensure the long-term impact of business and development initiatives on the well-being of the poorest communities is improved.

The seminar series is seeking to address questions such as:

–  Are the expectations being placed on the private sector realistic or strategic?

–  Is enough being done to identify where the genuine opportunities lie and what interventions are most likely to work in different circumstance?

–  What are the binding constraints on creating an enabling environment for business in developing countries?

–  How can we ensure the long-term impact of business and development initiatives on the wellbeing of the poorest communities is improved?

Information regarding further events in this series will be available shortly.

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By | 2017-10-08T11:56:19+01:00 November 10th, 2014|News|Comments Off on Good for business and poor people? The role of the private sector in tackling under-nutrition” – Second Seminar in “Driving private sector for public good” series with IDS and APPG Debt, Aid & Trade

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