Global PPP networks for sustainable food production

Food Security19 Feb 2013Stephan Manning

Global networks of Public Private Partnerships’ successes in promoting sustainable food production cannot be ignored. Through long-term commitments, they advantaged project-based learning, the up-scaling of local capabilities and knowledge transfers.

Making global food production more secure and sustainable is a complex development goal. Following the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, government agencies around the world have increasingly engaged in so-called ‘Public Private Partnerships’ (PPPs) with businesses and civil society groups to tackle complex social, economic and environmental problems of our time. PPPs have become influential in many sectors. One of the most important sectors however is global food production.

PPPs are typically organized in form of time-limited projects in a particular country that involve a development agency, a main global business partner, local partners and institutions, and, in some cases, civil society organizations. For example, one of the first PPP projects the German development agency GIZ launched back in the late 1990s was a partnership with Kraft Foods and the Coffee Chamber in Peru. The project was aimed at improving the quality of Peruvian raw coffee beans along with better working conditions for farmers and environmental practices (see GTZ documentation). Kraft benefitted from this PPP by securing the supply of high-quality coffee from Peru. GIZ benefitted from Kraft’s expertise and financial contribution, while helping Kraft establish connections to local institutions. And the Peruvian economy benefitted through an increase of global market value of Peruvian coffee which makes coffee growing a more attractive and sustainable business for farmers.

Since 1998, the GTZ (later: GIZ) has launched over 1,300 PPP projects – many of them in agriculture – with different partners. While each project has made an important local impact, such a project-based approach also has certain limitations. Most projects are rather small-scale and they provide specific solutions for particular local contexts. Yet, the bigger issue of global sustainable food production cannot be addressed with any single project.

Because of this, establishing global networks between projects and project partners are as important as any particular project. Such networks are sometimes described as ‘global project networks’. They are typically built and maintained informally by globally operating development agencies and business partners who collaborate repeatedly on different projects. Global project networks have three main advantages compared to single PPP projects: project-based learning, potential for upscaling, and knowledge transfer across geographies and sectors.

First, global project networks facilitate learning from project to project. One example is the long-term alliance between GTZ and Kraft Foods which has established since the coffee project in Peru. Both partners have collaborated on related projects in various countries: Colombia, Peru, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast and others (see Manning and von Hagen, 2010). Each project involved different local partners, but addressed similar problems: sustainable farming, quality, management capacity, marketing and certification processes. Experiences from previous projects have informed follow-up projects. And every new project has explored new dimensions which can then be adopted in other locations.

Second, global project networks facilitate upscaling. By that I mean the ability of project partners to lift local experiences to a global level. For example, the coffee project in Peru along with similar pilot projects became an important stepping stone for the Common Code for the Coffee Community (4C) – a global sustainability standard initiative driven by the GTZ along with key industry players, such as Kraft Foods, Sara Lee and the Neumann Group (see Manning and von Hagen, 2010). Today, 4C is an important baseline standard which, along with other standards such as Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and Utz Certified, has promoted the adoption of sustainable coffee growing practices worldwide.

Third, global project networks promote knowledge transfer. In order to make food production more sustainable, knowledge transfer to different communities about productive and sustainable farming practices, quality control, health and safety policies, and the market value of certifications can be critical. At the same time, these networks also facilitate knowledge transfer from one food sector to another. For example, following their successful collaboration in coffee, GTZ and Kraft recently launched a PPP on cocoa farming in the Ivory Coast. Together with a local trading company, the project helped certify 2,000 cocoa farmers in line with the Rainforest Alliance sustainability standard. Prior experiences with training coffee farmers in Latin America and Africa facilitated this process.

Both development agencies and multinational partners are particularly important for this knowledge transfer. This, of course, can be also viewed from a critical stance. As global network partners, multinational buyers have an increasing influence on the agenda of local projects and the adoption of particular practices. For buyers, meeting their global demands has first priority, whereas local farmers’ needs are secondary concerns. Development agencies therefore have an important counterbalancing role. By making sure that global sustainability objectives, local development goals, and farmer’s interests are addressed, they set limits to global business objectives of buyers.

The effectiveness of global PPP networks therefore is a balancing act – between the potential to bundle resources and create synergies to address global development goals, such as sustainable food production, and the risk of trade-offs between sustainability objectives and interests of powerful business partners. Yet, the contribution PPPs have made in promoting the adoption of more sustainable food production practices worldwide can hardly be ignored.


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