Private sectors around the world have been called upon to make important contributions to the fight against poverty and hunger, and promote sustainable food production and consumption.
The call was made by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) Director-General José Graziano da Silva, during a recent meeting with private sector associations and federations in Rome, Italy.
The Director-General spoke at FAO Headquarters to participants whose associations represent more than five-thousand companies. His remarks opened the first in a series of planned dialogues on private sector involvement in poverty- and hunger-reduction initiatives.
"The private sector has an important contribution to give to FAO. But this contribution has not always been recognised or valued. This is beginning to change," said Graziano da Silva.
"Many private companies already contribute financial resources to fight hunger and poverty. However, I want to say that it is a mistake to look at the private sector only as a source of funding for our programmes," he said.
"There are many other ways the private sector can contribute to food security and, in many cases, already does," the Director-General stressed. "My personal experience with the Zero Hunger Strategy in Brazil shows that perhaps the greatest contribution the private sector can give is something else: the political support to food security."
"The support of civil society and of the private sector is necessary to build consensus and mobilise all stakeholders towards the goal of a hunger-free world," Graziano da Silva added.
The head of FAO also encouraged the private sector participants to join the partnership that FAO, the African Union Commission and the Lula Institute launched recently in Ethiopia.
FAO's Secretariat is currently discussing with its Governing Bodies a strategy to guide its partnerships with the private sector. The strategy would serve, among other things, to ensure FAO's neutrality and impartiality in its dealings with the private sector.
During his remarks, Graziano da Silva pointed to other ways in which private sector companies can support sustainable development. They include: providing in-kind contributions like agricultural inputs and logistical support; providing services and support to workers and the communities in which they are based; building capacity in rural communities, and sharing knowledge and experiences.
Despite an overall reduction in hunger globally since the early 1990's, nearly 870 million suffer from hunger each day, according to The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012 (SOFI).
In its mission to eradicate hunger and extreme poverty through sustainable agriculture and rural development, FAO considers a wide spectrum of private sector entities as potential partners, including farmer organisations and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in lower income countries, and international corporations and private foundations.
The FAO chief pointed out the importance of involving both private sector and civil society representatives in international, policy-making discussions that have an impact on sustainable development and efforts to improve lives.
He mentioned their participation in consultations and debates leading to the new Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, as endorsed at FAO Headquarters in May by the Committee on World Food Security.
The CFS is now following a similar process to develop a complementary set of guidelines, the Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment (RAI).
"Increasingly, the private sector is giving signs of this political commitment. This can be seen in the World Economic Forums, in the business meetings held in the G20 and G8 and in its participation in the Committee on World Food Security," Graziano da Silva said.
Looking at the long-term picture, Graziano da Silva said he was counting the private sector to support FAO smallholder farming initiatives in the buildup to the UN's International Year of Family Farming, which will be in 2014.