Turkey and the region can do more to feed the world

Turkey and the region can do more to feed the world

It’s harvest time – time to take stock of what we have grown. This year has brought renewed pressures: droughts, rising commodity prices and food shortages remind us that the issue of food security in the world is very far from being solved. It is also time to start preparing for tomorrow’s sowing. It is time for the governments of this region and the world to provide real support to people who grow food, from private companies to small farmers to big multinational companies.

On Sept. 13 a large gathering of companies and decision-makers in the agribusiness from the Caspian and Black Sea to the Mediterranean will take gather in Istanbul to discuss the key role the private sector can play in food security. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization will lead the debate, which must eventually become global.

The world needs more food and that means more production. There is plenty of room for agricultural growth in countries where the EBRD operates as it is a vast swathe of land stretching from Mongolia in Central Asia to Morocco in North Africa. This area includes Turkey, where the EBRD investments began in 2009.

We believe that the private sector can be the main engine of such growth.

The host of the conference, Turkey, has huge potential. It is blessed with arable and fertile land and has tripled its agricultural exports in the last ten years to reach over $15 billion last year. Once it addresses issues that are holding it back - relatively high levels of protection, lack of proper irrigation, small and uneconomically sized farms and limited access to capital for modern production inputs - it can do much more.

After the collapse of the collective farm system dynamic, efficient private companies have managed to transform other countries like Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan from the agricultural wastelands of the 1990s to the leading grain exporters of today. These three countries already provide 15 percent of the world’s grain export and with appropriate policies they can double their harvests.

In a world of almost seven billion people, transition countries can fight hunger by growing more grain and potentially meat, but they can also fight poverty by helping their own rural population on the path to success in sustainable farming.

To achieve that, however, a lot of work is needed.

The private sector needs to double its investment in the land itself, machinery and seeds. Investment in storage, transport and trading infrastructure are the key to build buffers against shocks and droughts.

International organizations can help co-ordinate policy, provide investment, technical assistance and training and support the transfer of technology. The EBRD and FAO are already providing and mobilizing investment in infrastructure and equipment and improving farmers’ access to finance. The EBRD and FAO also encourage efficient use of resources, which means “more food per drop” of water and fertilizer.

But governments should take action too.

There must be market-based pricing and more options to access finance. Governments should create a predictable policy framework that fosters private sector investment.

They should promote market transparency and better risk management. This includes supporting national and regional commodity exchanges and crop and weather insurance markets.

There should also be greater public-private dialogue. There needs to be a pool of shared data on agricultural commodities, and co-ordination of emergency food reserve policies.

Responsible private investment from around the globe is the answer to the question of food security. Countries like Turkey, with its fertile land and outward-looking companies, can do more to feed the world, both by increasing production at home and by successfully investing in agriculture beyond its own borders.

Sir Suma Chakrabarti is president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.