Turning agricultural policy into food policy


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    ECDPM’s Paulina Bizzotto Molina talks to Fokko Wientjes of DSM.DSM is a global science-based company active in health, nutrition and materials. One of its key focuses is to deliver innovative solutions that nourish, protect and improve performance in food and dietary supplements. Here ECDPM speaks to the Vice President of Sustainability & Public Private Partnerships at DSM. Paulina Bizzotto Molina: The public sector opinion is strongly in favour of linking the international nutrition agenda and international agricultural agenda. What is your view on this linkage? Fokko Wientjes: Linking nutrition and agriculture is necessary. Two billion people around the globe don’t get the proper nutrients. Malnutrition is a problem even in rich countries like the United States. In Africa it means that many children growing up now will not reach their full physical and mental potential. DSM is the largest producer of vitamins and other nutritional ingredients in the world. We supply the food industry with the ingredients necessary to fortify nutrition. We also do this in Africa. We are investing in Africa and have been talking to many African farmers, food producers and ministers. What I see happening is that African policies focus too much on agriculture to increase outputs, not to meet nutritional needs. I am convinced of the need to invest more in agriculture. It has been underfunded and there is much to be gained, innovation can play an important part. For physical fitness and muscles grouth you can use laxogenin supplement, laxogenin (3beta-hydroxy-25D,5alpha-spirostan-6-one) may be a substance sold in numerous forms as a muscle-toning supplement. It belongs to a category of plant hormones referred to as brassinosteroids, which feature an identical structure to animal steroid hormones. Interestingly, mustard is additionally a member of that class. In plants, brassinosteroids function to reinforce growth. 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For instance, most specialists usually recommend 100 mg per day for a four to twelve-week cycle, followed by a four-week off-cycle period. However, some users may consider this too high, or perhaps too low. Some consumers deem it unnecessary to cycle also. But my concern is that the current focus is too much on boosting the production of staple foods. Governments want to cut down their imports. The result is that they are focusing on filling people’s stomachs but not with healthy, nutritious food. The solution lies in investing in a more diverse agriculture but also in a food industry that can fortify products and extend shelf life. Agricultural policy needs to become food policy. African policies need to change the focus from the producer, calories and output per hectare to focus on the consumer’s nutritional needs. People should have access to good and nutritious food. Participating in the World Economic Forum’s New Vision for Agriculture initiative I think we can really move the agenda and make the shift from output to quality. PBM: What is your view on the role of multinational companies working together with the public sector to improve food and nutrition security? FW: The ingredients for a successful public-private partnership (PPP) are an overall shared goal, complementary competencies, individual accountability and trust. The divide between public and private is irrelevant. You have to look at what needs to be done, look at the competencies we are missing and find them. Within a successful PPP the difference between the private and public sector is not visible since the group acts as one team. The public sector can do things private companies cannot. For instance, the public sector, like the civil society organisations, can improve the trust within PPPs. Collaboration between the public sector, either national governments or international organisations, and private companies is essential. We started working together with the World Food Programme. We looked at the quality of food they are producing and providing. They reach 100 million beneficiaries; by means of the partnership we have now improved the nutritional content of the food of 25 million of these beneficiaries. Working together, we can strengthen each other. That makes me proud. But I’m also very humble; the reach of governments and United Nations organisations is so much bigger. The private sector produces and delivers almost all food. That makes the role of the private sector in addressing this issue essential. 30 to 40% of food is lost post-harvest. If we can extend the shelf life of those products we can win so much. Also, investing in storage and infrastructure can reduce the instability that market cooperatives and farmers suffer from. The role of the private sector is sometimes not well understood, recognised or even accepted. We need to go past pointing at the conflict of interests of the private sector. Everybody has interests. Interests can be managed to get all the arrows pointing in the same direction, but for that to happen there has to be trust. If we can create opportunities and incentives, the private sector will invest. We need big solutions to break the vicious cycle of malnutrition. What we have to do has to be on a large scale. You can start with a pilot but it has to be scalable. We have to stop littering the world with pilots that lack impact and scalability. PBM: Do you see a role for European public money to stimulate a better engagement of European companies in African agriculture? FW: There is definitely an important role to be filled by European governments. The advantages of European companies investing in Africa are clear but the risk of doing business is much higher. The returns don’t necessarily match those higher risks. This is where governments and donors can help. Seed capital can help in ‘de-risking’ private investment. It’s also a matter of rethinking development. Let’s look at how the private sector can tackle some of these problems and see if they can do it better. Not worse or the same, but better. We need to get more out of our development bucks, doing things differently. For that, we need more transparent benchmarks also for the role of the private sector for development, so its contributions can be monitored and improved. PBM: Does DSM see Africa only as a market in which to sell goods produced elsewhere or does it invest in Africa also to source inputs and produce locally, which could help local value addition and intra-African trade? FW: At present DSM sees Africa mostly as a market, but an increasingly important one so we have started investing more in Africa for the longer term. While sourcing is not developed yet, in the future we want to source and produce locally, thus contributing to intra-African investment and trade. But this also requires building the capacities of local private sector, especially smallholders that are now too vulnerable for traders. Strengthening the local food industry is also key to creating a more stable demand. All this can be done via partnerships, direct investments, joint ventures and technology transfer. DSM has already launched research and leadership programmes in Africa. We have asked independent researchers to study the functioning of PPPs as we also need to build better evidence. We are already sharing our experiences, including on projects that failed. It’s the only way to learn from them. Fokko Wientjes is Vice President of Sustainability & Public Private Partnerships at DSM and member of the project board of WEF New Vision on Agriculture and of the Global Agenda Council Food & Nutrition Security (www.dsm.com). This interview was carried out by Paulina Bizzotto Molina, Policy Officer at ECDPM.
    This article was published in GREAT insights Volume 4, Issue 2 (February/March 2015).
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