World Food Day: Building a movement to end hunger

FAO ceremony at Milan Expo calls for social protection, fairer food systems; Rabobank issues "Building a Smarter Food System" report.

Leading figures in the global fight against hunger gathered at the Milan Expo to celebrate World Food Day, marking the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) with appeals to speed up efforts to eradicate hunger and improve the way food is produced and consumed.

FAO director-general Jose Graziano da Silva thanked the world's farmers, fishers, forest workers and other food and agriculture workers for their contribution to the "amazing achievement" of increasing sustenance from all even as the world population tripled since 1945.

With around 800 million people still suffering from undernutrition, two big challenges lie ahead, he said.

"First, we must quickly translate increases in food availability into better nutrition for all. Second, we must accelerate the shift of food production and consumption towards truly sustainable systems," Graziano said.

"Good nutrition is one of the best sources of economic growth and it contributes to peace and stability," he added.

Social protection allows the hungry to "become empowered to escape hunger through their own efforts, thus lead dignified and productive lives," he added.

"Hunger is more than a lack of food. It is a terrible injustice," U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said in his address. "We are here to build a global movement to end hunger. We have to forge new partnerships and create better ways of working."

Ban Ki-moon emphasized the scale of food waste and loss, estimated as around one-third of all the food produced globally. "People everywhere know that waste is a disgrace," he said.

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'Smarter' farming

The food and agriculture (F&A) industry must increase production, availability and access to food significantly over the next 10 years if it is to meet the demands of a larger, increasingly urban global population. Against a backdrop of uneven growth and soft commodity prices, this will require all in the F&A industry to embrace the opportunity provided by data and technology, according to the "Building a Smarter Food System" report presented by Rabobank at Expo Milano 2015.

"A smarter food system is more productive, less wasteful and more profitable," explained Fred van Heyningen, global head of food and agri banking at Rabobank. "It combines technology and data to change the way, as well as the speed, at which decisions are made and to optimise the use of resources to produce and deliver the food consumers need and where they need it."

Rabobank said it is clear that the combination of technology, big data and more advanced algorithms represents a powerful opportunity to improve outcomes. Rabobank believes a smarter food system could offer productivity gains of at least 5% across a number of sub-sectors, supply chain stages and regions.

"Technology automates the way things happen, big data tells us what is happening, algorithms translate that data into decisions, adding speed and accuracy to food production, processing and distribution," Rabobank global strategist Justin Sherrard explained. "Success will depend on disruptive ideas that investors are willing to back. The good news is that the move to a smarter system is already beginning to take shape."

However, while the technology currently exists to build a smarter food system, Rabobank warns that it is by no means inevitable. Rabobank identifies “three keys” that will be essential if global F&A is to meet the demands of the next 10 years:

* Strengthen supply chains: A smarter food system will require buyers and suppliers to make new investments and take on new risks in pursuit of new rewards. Success will depend on greater connectivity between buyers and suppliers, sharing data and making joint decisions in real time.

* Enable investment: New approaches and technologies entail new risks and opportunities. This will require understanding and support from both investors and regulators, who will need to provide frameworks where technology can be used safely and effectively.

* Achieve societal acceptance: Consumer concerns include genetic modification and cloning, data privacy, food waste and nutrition. These concerns should be addressed and taken into account in the change process. Increased levels of engagement and education are required to build a smarter and more sustainable food system backed by public support.

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