One-third of the world’s population is affected by poor nutrition. Currently, food systems do not adequately support nutrition and must be urgently transformed to help improve nutrition among all people. The COVID-19 pandemic uncovered major vulnerabilities across our food systems that limit countries’ ability to respond to health and economic shocks. Amid these crises governments have the unique responsibility and opportunity to establish national nutrition priorities and actions. The establishment and implementation of these priorities and the policies supporting them requires the engagement of multi stakeholders to debate, advocate, and champion ideas that drive change in the food system. This includes the full and active involvement of the private sector as governments look to ‘build back better’.
Most food globally is produced, processed, distributed, and traded by the private sector, with businesses serving as powerful market actors that can increase the accessibility of safe and nutritious foods to consumers. Spurred by shifts in consumer preferences and innovations that increase the affordability of producing nutritious food, companies are increasingly recognising the value of investing in good nutrition.
Public-private engagements in nutrition offer governments a unique opportunity to deliver on their targets, by harnessing the power and reach of businesses. This can include dialogues, collaborations and partnerships between government and the private sector where there is an aligned purpose to promote the consumption of affordable, nutritious, and safe foods. To date, there are encouraging examples of public private engagements in nutrition that have yielded great results, including the collection of data on food purchases, development of new technological innovations, strengthening consumer demand and making nutrition more aspirational to consumers.
To accelerate the establishment of public-private engagements in nutrition, the Scaling Up Nutrition Business Network, alongside partners is working to support, facilitate and broker these engagements. Co-convened by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), the SBN was established in 2010 with the overall purpose of reducing malnutrition in all its forms by mobilising the private sector to commit to and invest in improved business practices that contribute to national nutrition priorities. With presence in over 20 countries, SBN serves as the platform that convenes businesses to align with government efforts to improve nutrition whilst working to facilitate better working relationships between businesses and government. Currently SBN is convening over 1,000 business who have committed to engage with government to address local nutrition priorities. This year is a pivotal one for the SBN, being the ‘Nutrition Year of Action,’ marked by major global advocacy events, including the UN Food Systems Summit and the Nutrition for Growth Summit. These will provide an opportunity for SBN and partners to energize the private sector to engage with government and make commitments that drive greater joint action toward improved nutrition.
Looking to the future, food systems continue to run the risk of being impacted by increased demographic, climate, and market pressures. As we prepare to face these challenges, there is an opportunity to enhance greater participation of the public and private sector to help drive collective action, investment, resources, and commitment to make nutritious and safe foods accessible.