Improving Global Food Security Through Public-Private Partnerships

A ruined building on farm in Blahodatne village, Mykolaiv Region, southern Ukraine, which Russian occupiers destroyed.
Dutch children eating soup during the famine of 1944–1945
A ruined building on farm in Blahodatne village, Mykolaiv Region, southern Ukraine, which Russian occupiers destroyed.
Dutch children eating soup during the famine of 1944–1945

For five decades, the world saw notable global progress in enhancing food security and nutrition.

However, since 2019, increasing fuel and fertilizer prices, declining agriculture productivity, the war in Ukraine, and disruptions to supply chains caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have all taken a heavy toll.

As a result, the number of hungry people in the world has increased by 150 million.

Today, 700 million people are hungry and food insecure.

The former director of the UN World Food Programme has described this situation as the largest global food crisis since World War II.

Ending global hunger will require concerted efforts from governments, companies, and civil society. This is not an easy endeavor since the global food industry is a complex system. It comprises a web of products and activities (e.g., farming, irrigation, storage, marketing, transport), small-scale farmers and big companies, and markets that operate under varying policy environments. From a network of 600 million small farmers to local producers, multinational companies, retailers, and governments, all these players interact across diverse agricultural value chains.

The private sector (both domestic firms and multinational companies) plays an outsized role in food systems. It provides funding, technology, know-how, employment, access to markets, and innovation. Most importantly, large companies operate at a scale of production and level of efficiency that can meet consumers’ needs and enable small farmers to move up the agricultural value chain.

orange fruit tree

Public-private partnerships can bring together different stakeholders and encourage businesses to invest in the most critical challenges facing our food systems. Partnerships are concerted and coordinated efforts between public and private actors with a common goal. Each partner brings unique value into the relationship. Collectively, partners leverage expertise, resources, and efforts to increase their access to markets, share risks, and achieve development outcomes. 

Working toward ending global hunger through partnerships requires designing effective and informed multisectoral collaborations. Analyzing evidence from recent partnership experiences in food systems provides critical lessons that can guide and improve future initiatives in this space.

Over time, partnerships have been adapted to address challenges to food security, strengthen food systems, and spur innovation, investment, and technical expertise.

Partnerships can take place between two or more actors that collaborate on a discrete project or among several actors working on a larger set of development outcomes. With small-scale farmers for example, companies can approach different models of partnering:

  • Specific formal contractual arrangements between the farmer and the company
  • Formal contracts with producer organizations for a specific function in the value chain
  • Joint ventures among companies and producers, whether for part of a value chain or in its entirety

In the food space, partnerships are usually set up to be long-lasting commitments ranging anywhere between 5 and 30 years and sharing resources, costs, and risks among partners in their collective pursuit of shared values and objectives. They can take place across different stages of the food value chain including research, development, adoption and marketing, and diffusion.

Through these engagements, stakeholders can strengthen supply chains, distribute technology and tools, develop resilient financing mechanisms, invest in local capacity building and upskilling, and encourage modern sustainable agricultural practices.

Understanding Partnerships
in Food Systems

Partnerships have the potential to create a more equitable and secure global food system.

two women sits of padded chairs while using laptop computers
2 men in white dress shirt holding green plant
person standing near vegetables
two women sits of padded chairs while using laptop computers
2 men in white dress shirt holding green plant
person standing near vegetables

By playing to stakeholders’ strengths, partnerships produce benefits for private actors and for society at large. 

For government actors, partnerships allow for improved management skills, access to new technology, and the potential to leverage new investments.

The benefits for companies include lower risks when firms enter new markets, better protection of intellectual property rights when testing and implementing new technology, and access to local sources. This creates opportunities for private actors to expand their productivity while reducing costs, leading to increased income from sales and profits.

Benefits of Public-Private Partnerships


Creating Jobs & Skills Capacity


Adopting & Distributing Technology


Crafting Resilient Financing Mechanisms


Aiding Development of New Products


Sharing Sustainable Agricultural Practices


Strengthening & Expanding Supply Chains

Partnership Challenges

Orchestrating these collaborations is not a straightforward process.

Many do not reach the scale or goals they intended to achieve. Too many partnerships in one area can risk them becoming fragmented and siloed initiatives. With various organizations and companies pursuing similar goals independently, duplicative efforts and inefficiencies arise. This lack of coordination and coherence can limit the overall impact of the partnerships in question.

Moreover, some partnerships struggle to achieve sufficient scale to make a substantial difference, especially in regions with complex and diverse agricultural systems. Private actors might also not be interested in large-scale projects due to high-risk perceptions and insufficient gains to offset costs. Alternatively, in some cases the private sector might simply lack the capacity to implement large-scale projects.

orange and white excavator on brown ground during daytime

Finally, there is a long-standing perception that partnerships favor private interests over public goals. Critics argue that the profit motives of private companies could overshadow the social and environmental aspects of agricultural development. In some cases, this has led to mistrust of private sector partners.

If not managed transparently and with clear social and environmental safeguards, partnerships risk creating a negative image for the private sector. Ensuring transparency, accountability, and the distribution of benefits are essential to address these concerns and build public confidence in such collaborations.

Creating Successful Partnerships

For partnerships that aim to improve farmers’ productivity and incomes while enhancing food security, there are several critical factors that should be prioritized to ensure the success of these initiatives.


Leaders set the direction of every partnership: they identify a common vision and promote dialogue of all the parties involved. Leaders need to identify internal champions that will be able to align shared interests and support ongoing implementation efforts. However, partnerships cannot be built around or depend solely on big personalities. Long-term successful partnerships must be able to survive frequent leadership changes. Therefore, teams need to craft well-planned strategies that ensure the partnership will not collapse because of staffing changes down the road.


Building a successful partnership requires collaborating on a common agenda for all parties involved. Each stakeholder will have different goals, but within the partnership, there must be an alignment of their larger objectives. All parties must have a shared value proposition in the partnership; partners should also be co-creators. In this regard, partners need to define concrete commercial and social impact objectives at the onset, as well as be detailed in their evolving operational plans.


Successful partnerships take time and significant planning at the beginning. Food security in particular is a long-term challenge that requires sustained effort, patience, and commitment from all partners. Partnerships may evolve beyond initial objectives, so stakeholders should be willing to adapt to changing circumstances and adjust and refine the engagement as needed. This requires frequent collaboration and communication among partners.


Strong collaboration, communication, and coordination of activities among stakeholders are all critical for the sustained success of partnerships. Each stakeholder must clearly understand their role and responsibilities within the partnership and communicate clearly and frequently to avoid misunderstanding and duplicative efforts.


There are many partnership models and no one model is perfect. There are existing platforms that already have structures, procedures, and processes in place that new partnerships can adopt and adapt. Leveraging these models and platforms leads to more efficient and streamlined processes. Having an existing track record of successful implementation can also lend legitimacy and credibility. This can be an important step to instilling confidence, attracting investment, and garnering public trust.

man in fruit market


Successful partnerships in food systems demand a comprehensive understanding of local market dynamics, environmental factors, and socioeconomic considerations. Local partners can provide valuable knowledge about the opportunity space and specific challenges in an area. Understanding local needs helps facilitate targeted activities within the partnership.


Local partners possess useful and specific knowledge, but they may have constraints. Capacity-building programs can provide them with new agricultural practices, sustainable farming techniques, and value chain dynamics. This in turn enables them to access new markets and establish long-term relationships, which can lead to increases in productivity and profitability of their business ventures.


Demonstrating the business case and return on investment of an initiative can garner support from multiple partners even if the project faces staff changes. Presenting clear and measurable objectives for partnerships helps stakeholders understand the purpose, expected outcomes, and value that a partnership will bring. This can increase their alignment and commitment to the initiative.


Governments play a crucial role in attracting investment and creating an enabling environment where partnerships can flourish. Establishing risk-sharing mechanisms, such as performance guarantees and revenue-sharing agreements, can also mitigate financial risks associated with partnerships. Governments from developing countries and development finance institutions can work together to structure tools, such as a first loss position, to de-risk investments.

white concrete building under sky


Ensuring that economic interests align with social and environmentally responsible practices can help create more resilient, inclusive, and sustainable food systems. Additionally, long-term commitment to responsible, ethical, and sustainable agricultural practices helps earn the acceptance and trust of local stakeholders and communities. By striking a balance between the two goals (profits and sustainability), partnerships can achieve lasting and meaningful impacts.


Having dedicated personnel who can execute project components efficiently is essential for the effective implementation of a partnership. This also significantly reduces the potential for delays and operational inefficiencies.

stack of books on table


Tracking progress and measuring results during the life of the partnership is critical for securing and maintaining support for the partnership, achieving end goals, and course correcting as needed. Aligning key performance indicators with the partnership’s objectives, conducting baseline data collection, and implementing robust monitoring and evaluation systems are all important pillars in tracking the progress of a partnership. Incorporating these metrics allows partnerships to continuously learn and improve throughout the life cycle of a project.  

Preventing Failed Partnerships

Although many partnerships succeed, there are several factors that pose significant challenges and can lead to failed initiatives.


Overpromising and setting unrealistic expectations can erode public trust and credibility if partnerships fail to meet these promises. This in turn reduces the long-term sustainability and success of a project. Additionally, announcing an initiative prematurely can lead to inadequate risk mitigation strategies, improper vetting of partners due to shortened and rushed procurement processes, and inadequate resource allocation.


Private sector actors may change their strategic priorities, which can diminish their
commitment to the endeavor, including staff and financial contributions. If a company
cancels the initiative, this creates uncertainty for all partners and can potentially affect the reputation and brand of the company.


Differences in organizational structures and cultures can inhibit effective and efficient
collaboration. Governments, civil society organizations, and companies have their own
timelines for project approval and launch and use their own terms and ways to
communicate. These unique institutional characteristics can create friction (or even
conflicts) and misalignment of expectations among partners. If these differences are not
properly addressed, they can lead to suboptimal collaborations and poor outcomes.

macbook pro displaying group of people


Sometimes partnerships fail because companies did not conduct sufficient due diligence on country conditions. The regulations and policies of a country might also change unexpectedly. Having a clear understanding of laws and regulations of the host country and their enforcement can promote and facilitate better business engagement. Quality infrastructure, tax, and labor regulations are essential for any business operation.


Leaders and decisionmakers not taking the time to understand local partners’ needs
inhibits the successful implementation of projects and ultimately their impact and
sustainability. Sequencing and coordination also are essential.

two people shaking hands


Successful partnerships require a strong foundation of trust between partners. Building
this trust requires time, many interactions, negotiations, and establishing a shared
understanding of goals and values. Even with a foundation of trust, conflict or differences
in opinion may arise among partners. Without conflict resolution mechanisms or proper
channels of communication, misalignments can significantly disrupt partnerships.


Navigating complex government procurement rules and regulations can be challenging
for private companies. In terms of both scale and system, public sector actors, such as
government agencies, are usually limited by their program cycle and funding that limits
how they can address issues and partner with the private sector. This challenges efforts to bring partnerships to scale.


Food and agriculture are vulnerable to factors like climate events, policy changes, and
market fluctuations. Partners may not fully account for these issues or may assume
certain conditions are present (e.g., farmer insurance, infrastructure) that are not. This can negatively affect both the productivity and profitability of the partnership. Developing strategic foresight and contingency plans can help partners identify and address these risks.


Solving hunger and food insecurity requires sustained collaborative action from governments, companies, and civil society. Partnerships bring these actors together and leverage the strengths of each sector to foster innovation, investment, and technical expertise.

Partnerships in agriculture and food security have a rich history. While they hold great promise, orchestrating them is not without challenges.  By building on experiences from past partnerships, future collaborations can create sustainable and impactful projects that reduce hunger and create more secure food systems for all.  

man in blue t-shirt planting rice on fields


iDeas Lab Story Production

Editorial & production by: Mark Donaldson & Sarah B. Grace
Design by: Lauren Bailey, Mark Donaldson, & Sarah B. Grace
Editorial assistance by: Claire Smrt
Data visualization by: Sarah B. Grace
Timeline by: Mark Donaldson
Copyediting support by: Katherine Stark

Special Thanks

  • The authors would like to thank Zane Swanson, Curt Reintsma, Jedidiah Devillers, and Teresa Gonzales for their excellent research support.
  • This report was made possible by the generous support of the PepsiCo Foundation.

Photo and Video Credits

Cover Videos:
Songsak Paname / Creatas Video via Getty Images; PackShot Studio / Creatas Video via Getty Images; Bloomberg Video via Getty Images

Damaged farm: Nina Liashonok / Getty Images
Man carrying food: Michele Spatari / AFP via Getty Images
Oranges: Max / Unsplash

Understanding Partnerships in Food Systems:
Header: Doreen Hove / USAID
Collaboration: Christina @ wocintechchat.com / Unsplash
Agriculture: ThisisEngineering RAEng / Unsplash
Market: Alex Hudson / Unsplash
Construction: Billy Freeman / Unsplash

Creating Succesful Partnerships:
Header: Thomas Cristofoletti / USAID
Garden: Photo by Kate Consavage / USAID
Market: Photo by Annie Spratt / Unsplash
Government: Photo by Katie Moum / Unsplash
Files: Wesley Tingey / Unsplash

Preventing Failed Partnerships:
Laptop: Chris Montgomery / Unsplash
Handshake: Cytonn Photography / Unsplash

Ashraful Haque Akash / Unsplash