On Tuesday night, things are busy in the SDG Tent on the Promenade in Davos. This venue, intended to enable World Economic Forum (WEF) visitors to gather in an informal setting, is sponsored by a group of companies and institutions such as [Impact Institute], Rabobank and DSM. From the early morning until late into the evening, sessions are being held on themes associated with the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – the SDGs. All 17 goals concern efforts to solve poverty, inequality, and climate change. Tonight, in the Oceans room in the SDG Tent, there is a focus on food – and more specifically, its true value.
The inconvenient truth
The fair value of food depends on many factors. For example, how much value has been extracted from the earth? What social costs were incurred? What are the implications of food production for consumer health? And what about the social costs associated with underpaid workers? In short, there is a world of hidden costs, ‘externalities’, behind every food price label. “If we are able to fully incorporate those factors into the price of our food, we will increase awareness of what our food costs in the broad sense of the word, and that should ultimately encourage us all to drastically increase the sustainability of the global food supply,” Wiebe Draijer – Chairman of the Managing Board at Rabobank – explained at the start of the dinner.
Food is one of the most discussed topics during this year’s edition of the WEF. The food discussion has taken on great urgency due to the war in Ukraine, which together with Russia accounts for approximately 30% of global grain exports. Some African countries depend on this grain for food, but the war is also increasing the risk of global famine outside of Africa.
The urgency of the issue was palpable in conversations at the tables over dinner, which included ministers from Ecuador, Botswana, and Rwanda in addition to the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Liesje Schreinemacher. After dessert, the main conclusions were that the true value of food needs to be broadly discussed with all parties in the food chain and that it is a complex issue. After all, it is very difficult to calculate the environmental, health, and social costs of producing food. The world is not set up to pay for the use of natural resources. And even if those calculations can be made, who is going to pay? These discussions can quickly cause divisions between rich western countries (the USA and within Europe) and the poorer areas of the world.