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.
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.
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.
in Food Systems
Partnerships have the potential to create a more equitable and secure global food system.
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
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.
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.
Preventing Failed Partnerships
Although many partnerships succeed, there are several factors that pose significant challenges and can lead to failed initiatives.
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
- 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
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