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Food Majors Triple Investment In Ending Hunger

World majors in agriculture and food sectors have tripled their investments in boosting global food security but need to spend more to help eradicate hunger, participants at an international forum said Nov. 12.

With the number of hungry people rising to a record 1.02 billion this year, up 100 million from 2008, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) urged private and public investors to pour more funds in developing countries’ farming.

FAO said foreign direct investment (FDI) in agriculture tripled to more than $3 billion in 2007 from $1 billion in 2000 but that still represented less than one per cent of total world FDI inflows.

The figure also pales when compared with $44 billion a year of official development assistance that FAO urges world leaders to agree to spend to help poor nations feed themselves.

Private sector, governments, non-government organizations should work together to solve long-term problems in developing countries and eradicate hunger in the world, said Ertharin Cousin, the U. S. ambassador to the UN food agencies in Rome.

“Many of these companies have been working in (developing) countries for many years and know better than many of the donor countries what the problems there are,” she told Reuters.

Food and agribusiness majors, including Nestlé, Unilever and Cargill which gathered in Milan for a two-day meeting on food security, said they can add value to the global cause with their funds and expertise.

“In our business… we can make a huge difference in terms of using plant genetics and tools and advise farmers to make a real change in the way they are working in developing markets,” Dean Oestreich, chairman of a leading U. S. agricultural biotech company Pioneer Hi-Bred and a vice-president of DuPont, told Reuters.

But their investments in poor countries’ agriculture also follow a pure business rationale because they help companies reduce costs, ensure the long-term viability of their own supplies and build new markets for their products, they said.

“It’s not charity, it’s business,” Anil Jain, managing director of Indian company Jain Irrigation Systems Limited, said summing up opinions of other business leaders at the forum.

For example, the world’s biggest food group, Nestlé, which sources its agricultural raw materials in about 50 countries, has spent millions of euros in building local facilities to trim costs and boost sales of affordable products on new markets.

But it also invested in sustainable agriculture projects in several developing countries.

“We believe that this correlation is balanced: we can create value for shareholders and for society. It is a concurrent process,” Nestlé executive vice-president Jose Lopez said.

U. S. Pioneer Hi-Bred, a unit of Du-Pont, has invested several million dollars in agricultural development program in Africa, including donations, aiming to set the stage for expanding commercial operations there, Oestreich said.

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