As populations continue to grow, the world’s farmers have the formidable task of providing nutritious food for 9 billion people by 2050. Several fierce challenges still stand in their way as our world resources are under more strain than ever, whilst at the same time more frequent and extreme weather conditions caused by climate change are affecting farmers ability to produce enough food to meet demand. These issues are incredibly complex to solve, yet are becoming increasingly urgent. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are one way in which expertise from different fields can be combined to reach innovative agricultural solutions.
What are Public-Private Partnerships?
Public-Private Partnerships are formed by public organisations and private sector businesses in order to share knowledge, skills and expertise allowing them to meet a common goal. They operate on the principle that by combining their strengths, all partners can make better progress than they would alone.
Public partners include research institutes, universities and NGOs, who have the ground-level knowledge and understanding of the issues in question. Private partners includemultinational corporations or producer associations, who can not only inject capital into projects, but also provide specialist skills and provide successful marketing and distribution channels. According to Syngenta, public investment in productivity-enhancing agricultural research and development has been declining in most of the world outside China. Private investments and capability, on the other hand, continue to grow.
In the instances of agriculture and food security, PPPs can be especially effective. The following quote is taken from Crop Life International’s brochure : “Advancing Agricultural Innovation through Public-Private Partnerships”
Collaborative partnerships can effectively bridge the gap between public and private sectors’ distinctive competencies in order to meet farmers’ needs.
For national governments, partnerships offer a way to translate shared research outputs into useful, relevant tools for their own farmers. They can offer access to a greater variety of technology choices; they can spread and share the financial burden of research; and they can create a flexible, expert resource for capacity-building.
For the private sector, public-private partnerships have potential to increase the leverage of a deep knowledge-base. They offer a mechanism to share the costs of infrastructure and diffusion, and also an opportunity to increase the effectiveness of technologies over time. Finally, they can make individual innovations better adapted to local conditions, and in so doing enhance the quality and quantity of sectoral knowledge.
Public-Private Partnerships in practice
Such partnerships are already in progress in the developing world. In Africa, a new public-private partnership called Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) was formed in 2008 to help smallholder farmers and their families by using advanced plant breeding and biotechnology to develop more drought tolerant maize varieties.
The partnership comprises of the not-for-profit organization the African Agricultural Technology Foundation who co ordinate, as well as private agricultural companies such as Monsanto and BASF who provide access to access proprietary germplasm, advanced breeding tools and expertise, and drought-tolerant transgenes for use in WEMA research.
It is estimated that the maize varieties developed over the next decade could increase yields as much as 20 to 35 percent under moderate drought conditions compared to the hybrids available in 2008. This would equate to an extra two million additional tonnes of food during times of drought for participating countries.
Another example of a successful public-private partnership has been studied by IFPRI in their 2008 report “Building Public Private Partnerships for Agricultural Innovation”. The project based in Bolivia aimed at improving the productivity and competitiveness of peanut cultivation in the Mairana Valley and sought to improve income for peanut producers by 25%.
Several partners were involved in the process: The Association of Oilseed and Wheat Producers (ANAPO) assumed responsibility for technical assistance and technology transfer, while the Bolivian Agricultural Technology (SIBTA) and the Mairana municipality government provided the financing. A fixed price for the product was set before the harvest and ensured by a buyer, Shirosawa S.R.L, which markets peanuts to international markets in Japan and elsewhere. Both ANAPO and the SIBTA had previous experience with development projects in the peanut sector, and as a result, had access to a broad spectrum of information about principal actors, production procedures and the commercialization of peanuts. In fact, it was this knowledge of the opportunities and limitations in the peanut sector that motivated them to form the partnership.
The benefits that the producers have received from the partnership include a reduction of production costs by 30 percent, a 40-percent increase in yields, the strengthening of the farmer organization, and the transfer and introduction of new technology. In addition to achieving the project’s goals, other unexpected achievements were realized: new production and commercialization skills were acquired and partners initiated collaboration with other actors in the sector.
It is clear that there is no ‘silver bullet’ that will solve the myriad challenges facing smallholder farmers today. It is also apparent that by combining the expertise of different bodies, that is to say, allowing partnerships between public and private sector organisations, we have the potential to reach sustainable and innovative agriculture solutions.