How can the world feed itself by 2030? This was the question put to a panel of experts at our Big Debate in London's City Hall on Thursday 2 February.

An informative opening speech by Alan Dangour, Professor of Food and Nutrition at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, described a global food system which is failing. A world where two billion people suffer from micronutrient malnutrition whilst two billion are overweight or obese. A world where climate change is negatively affecting crop yields, and the population is growing.

In 2015, the UN set the ambitious goal of ending hunger by 2030 and ensuring a world in which all people have access to ‘safe, sufficient and nutritious food all year round’. But as Prof. Dangour asked, how are we going to achieve this?

With an issue this complex and far-reaching, it was clear that there would be no easy answers. The event brought together some of the best minds from business, academia, charity and science. This included our panel:

  • Simon Billing, Principal Sustainability Advisor at Forum for the Future
  • Mark Buckingham, a Director of Monsanto in the UK
  • Professor Corinna Hawkes, Director of the Centre for Food Policy at City, University of London
  • Kathy Kahn, Senior Programme Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Professor Ruth Oniang’o, Chair of Board at the Sasakawa Africa Association.

Chaired by renowned BBC presenter and Send a Cow patron Jonathan Dimbleby, the panel navigated their way through five related topics – diets, science and innovation, people, the environment and business- taking comments and questions from the audience throughout.

When asked whose diets need to be more urgently addressed, those of the malnourished or those of the overweight, Hawkes said neither could be prioritised arguing that being overweight is ‘‘simply a different form of malnutrition’’ and we shouldn’t ‘‘treat them as separate problems.’’ 

With a background working with smallholder farmers in Africa and Asia, Kathy Kahn did not agree. She argued that the malnourished - most of whom are in developing countries - should be prioritised: ‘‘We (the Gates Foundation) focus on the most undernourished who depend on agriculture for their livelihood and their food. If we can empower those undernourished people to produce more food for their families then that’s a really viable pathway out of poverty.’’ 

Mark Buckingham agreed that we should be focusing on the most malnourished, whilst not forgetting the eating habits of the majority.

Simon Billing switched the focus closer to home, arguing that ‘‘we need to be more focused on our diets in the developed world. We eat very resource-intensive diets…it's having an impact on the planet and on our health…we need to zoom in on the way we behave and the way we eat.’’

Sharing insight from Kenya, Ruth described a double problem in Africa. ‘‘Generally, the African diet is not too rich in fat, sugar and salt. But we’re seeing the same obesity, we’re seeing it in the cities…they eat too much starch and we’re seeing obesity right now…now we have a malady of obesity and a malady of nutrition (in Africa).’’ 

As the debate gained momentum, it became clear that simply producing more food was not the answer. ‘‘If we say production is going to solve the nutrition problem, it won’t’’ remarked Hawkes. Diets and education around nutrition need to change, and they need to do so from a young age.

The debate closed with a final speech from Send a Cow CEO Paul Stuart, who encouraged those in the audience to stay informed on the issues, and to work together to try and solve the problem.

Paul reaffirmed Send a Cow’s belief in the power of enterprise and business, where smallholders retain control and where consumers are connected to their local food system. And he reiterated his hopes that we will one day see a world in which all smallholder farmers are able to feed their families in a healthy and sustainable way.