Private-Public Partnerships at Work in Africa: Partners in Food Solutions (Video)

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From the beginning God created the world to provide food enough for all people. Even after the Fall, God said the ground would provide bread for humanity, although tilling the soil would now be toilsome (Genesis 3:17-19). Yet billions of people still face food insecurity and sometimes outright famine.

This problem may be too large for churches and individuals to solve, even working together. But God often calls believers to join with the wider society to bring God's blessings to everyone. In this video, Jeff Dykstra, founding executive director of Partners in Food Solutions, discusses how he mobilized business, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations to increase farm income and provide food security in less-developed countries. Formerly Jeff was a regional Executive Director of World Vision, a Christian development and aid agency. By partnering with others beyond the Christian development network, he was able to take leadership in restoring God's vision of a world in which everyone has enough to eat.

If you're interested in learning more about Christians' role in bringing God's provision of food and other necessities to people in poverty, see Theology of Work Project article Provision and Wealth, especially the section, "We Are to Work With Non-Believers to Increase Provision and Reduce Poverty."


Jeff Dykstra: Partners in Food Solutions, which is a consortium of General Mills, Cargill, and DSM, are working in Africa to help try to improve the food value chain by intersecting with the food processor.

If you think of the food value chain from farmer to consumer, the food processor sits in the middle. By helping to build the capacity of small and growing food processors, we’re doing two things. One is driving demand for the crops of smallholder farmers. We see that in a lot of our partnerships: companies that are able to source more raw material from farmers, or specialty crops from them. And then on the other end of the chain we’re trying to improve nutrition.

We’re working with companies that are supplying both the local retail markets as well as the food aid markets. By providing local product rather than exported food, we’re keeping the economic activity contained within that country.

We’ve seen in our public private partnership with USAID the coming together of very different mindsets but very aligned goals. I think anyone who has been a part of a public private partnership would say it’s not always easy. You’re talking about two very different cultures when you’re talking about the business world and the public sector.

We have found a way to work very effectively with USAID where we’re leveraging the core competencies that our businesses bring with the know-how, the knowledge, and the understanding and resources that USAID brings. And we’re doing something that we’ve said many times neither entity could do on their own. I think that’s the beauty of any partnership that works well. It really is a value addition.

Partners in Food Solutions in working with these small and growing food processors, really trying to impact both the smallholder farmer as well as the consumer. We are working hard to find those companies that are sitting at that axis that can do one or both of those things well. For example, we’re working with an organization in Eastern Zambia called COMACO. They source from more than 40,000 smallholder farmers in an area that has traditionally been very food insecure. In working with COMACO and helping them to develop new products and to refine current products, we’re both helping on the demand side which we’re measuring and also as importantly helping supply local markets.

That includes the food aid market. COMACO is now a supplier to the World Food Program, in a region of Zambia that used to be very dependent on WFP food. They’ve gone from being a net consumer to now a supplier. With that value addition of the company, they’re providing local products on the shelves that have traditionally come from South Africa or even off the continent. They’re now supplying local peanut butter, local rice, local soy products - they’re being sold on the supermarket shelves.

We’re looking for companies that can have a disproportional impact up and down that value chain.

Food shortages, hunger and nutrition are obviously very intractable challenges in our world today. Where we have found success is by focusing on a niche. If you look at the scope and scale and challenges around food insecurity, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. What we have done is to say: Here’s what we can do. Here’s what these companies, General Mills, Cargill, DSM, can do to make a difference in a part of the value chain that is core to their strengths. I think by focusing that’s helped.

We see lots of challenges with the companies we’ve worked with. Everything from infrastructure issues. A lot of the companies in Tanzania we’ve been working with have been dealing with power shortages. It’s tough to run a food company when you have unreliable power! But we believe that over time we’re going to continue to see progress in the development of Africa. And we think nutrition is a fundamental piece of that.

There is a current debate around the effectiveness of foreign aid that I think is oftentimes misguided. As someone who comes from both a business background and a development background, I’ve seen the benefits that effective aid can bring, and I’ve certainly seen some of the inefficiencies there. I really think it’s the wrong question: Is foreign aid effective? I think the problem is: we ask foreign aid to do something that it fundamentally can’t do. In countries like Zambia where you have 75% unemployment, to expect that foreign assistance is somehow going to move the needle on that, it’s like pulling every for-profit company out of Minneapolis and turning to a few nonprofits and saying: We’d now like you to take care of all Minnesota. It’s not going to be effective.

I think the issue is not “Is foreign aid effective?” I think we ask it to do too much. And that’s where businesses engaging in Africa and across the continent – not that that’s the silver bullet – but in many places that’s the leg of the stool that’s missing. It’s very much a both and. Can we improve the effective delivery of foreign aid? Absolutely. Is it the problem that many people have been writing about and talking about? I don’t think so.