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To end malnutrition, the private sector needs to be at the table

The private sector should view improving nutrition as a business opportunity, not just a moral duty.
, Lauren Landis

Think of what you ate today. How much of it did you grow, gather or kill yourself? Unless you're a farmer, an enthusiastic forager or home gardener, the answer is probably none.

How you answered, or how you expect most people to answer, should be a wakeup call that, when we're talking about ending malnutrition, we cannot do it without engaging with the private sector.

Photo: WFP/Deniz Akkus

Up until now, getting the public and private sectors to align to end malnutrition has been a major challenge. Historically, the public sector has not tapped into the expertise that the private sector has to offer, and the private sector has not taken public health into account.

Food fortification — when foods are fortified with nutrients using the technical expertise of the private sector and in response to a micronutrient deficiency — is an example of how when these sectors do align; the result is good for business and good for people.

At the World Food Programme (WFP) we have been working with a well-known science-based company for several years to fortify rice, which has massive potential to combat micronutrient deficiencies, particularly in Asia.

One our most exciting initiatives in this space is the Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) Business Network, a platform operating globally and nationally to engage businesses to invest and innovate in nutrition.

Through this project we bring companies with an interest in nutrition together and support them to improve the nutritional impact of their activities. The Good Food Logo in Zambia is an example of this, where nutritious products are given a special label, encouraging sales of healthy products and consumer education.

Good nutrition is good business

The private sector should view improving nutrition as a business opportunity, not just a moral duty.

As consumer awareness and demand for healthy diets increase in many countries, business should see this trend as an opportunity and respond with food options that are both nutritious and affordable.

Companies can tap into local networks and associations, such as the SUN Business Network, to explore sustainable opportunities to invest in nutrition and healthy diets.

Without the private sector, there is no food

The contribution of the private sector food industry is essential. Most people in the world no longer grow their own food, or only grow a portion of it. Rather, they buy their food from stores or markets, put there by the actions of a range of private sector actors along the food value chain, from production to processing, transport, retail and marketing. In short, there is no food without the private sector.

This is a critical moment for the world in terms of nutrition. The global community has made some important steps in the right direction over the past few decades, but progress is slow.

Some forms of malnutrition (such as overweight and obesity in adults) are getting worse, and there are still some vulnerable groups (such as young children and adolescent girls) that risk being left behind.

At the same time, there is much to be positive about. Our knowledge of the causes of malnutrition and how to end it has never been greater, there is strong political will in many countries to end malnutrition, and technology is providing new opportunities.

There is also increased awareness that ending malnutrition is not just the responsibility of governments and the development community but includes a much broader range of players.

Businesses operating at global, regional and national levels must be at the table as partners if we are going to end malnutrition by 2030. And that's the bottom line.

By Lauren Landis and Simone Gie

Article first published by Global Cause as part of the World Food Day 2019 campaign. See original here.