Debating the future of food production and consumption at Chatham House

December 16, 2013

Eivind Djupedal, a Cargill managing director and vice president, attended a two-day food security conference held this week at Chatham House in London entitled “Food Futures -- Towards Sustainable Production and Consumption.” Chatham House is the home of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, whose mission is to lead independent analysis and informed debate on a wide range of issues. Discussion at Chatham House is regulated by its own famous rule: while the topics can be reported on, neither the identity nor the affiliation of any speaker or participant can be attributed. This results in particularly frank and honest in-room dialogue.

Health and nutrition issues were frequently debated at the Chatham House event. It was reported that globally, one child in four under the age of 5 is stunted as a result of infant malnutrition, but at the same time, participants pointed out that obesity has increased dramatically in all corners of the world during the past 30 years. Even in Africa, it has doubled. These and other statistics led to debate about how to measure the effectiveness of food systems in delivering the right calories.

Environmental resources also were a major source of debate at the conference, including livestock production. In addition, land use was top of mind. Speakers made it clear that governments need to create clear legal frameworks that protect both landowners and potential investors and that transparency in land transactions is critical.

Sustainable intensification is an area of increasing interest. Djupedal participated in a panel “The Future of Production,” where he shared Cargill’s belief that it is possible to feed 9 billion people by 2050 if we build a sustainable and efficient agricultural system that includes fair and open trade. “The system needs to honor comparative advantage, which means growing the right crops in the right places and then moving around the globe as needed. We also need to increase productivity on the land we’re currently using, which includes better farming practices and adopting new technologies,” said Djupedal.

Addressing waste in the food supply chain was also discussed and that many approaches to combat waste need to be pursued simultaneously. Africa’s potential also came up often. One point of debate was how climate change might affect Sub-Saharan Africa in particular, and how biotechnology might help improve food production in drought conditions with high temperatures.