A global cold chain can solve the food crisis, one nation at a time.
Several weeks ago I had the honor of participating in a special United Nations Public-Private Partnership Forum on the Global Food Crisis at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. Titled “Investing in Agriculture Partnerships to Combat Hunger,” the forum was organized by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
President George W. Bush, accompanied by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and First Lady Laura Bush, were also there, along with a high-level audience of 140 global policymakers and top corporate executives.
I was asked to speak as part of a panel on “Partnerships along the Value Chain” that included the CEOs of Monsanto and Land O’ Lakes, a director of Cargill, and the President of Texas A&M University.
It’s a topic I was comfortable with because of the extensive global program we have participated in through the World Food Logistics Organization (WFLO), one of the core partner organizations of the Global Cold Chain Alliance (GCCA).
TIGHTENING THE CHAIN
I noted that while it is extremely important to improve crop genetics, expand the use of proper farming equipment, and increase processing and worker productivity, these improvements will be wasted if we lose 30–60 percent of the products due to spoilage and damage before they get to the consumer. These postharvest losses are even more significant when you consider the lost labor, water, seeds, and fertilizer invested in the growing process. As we gather to discuss global food hunger, we would argue that the solution is not only to increase production, but to reduce the losses through proper postharvest technologies. The cold chain is a solution to improving the livelihoods of people around the world by extending product shelf life as well as creating access to markets for higher value commodities.
The international projects of WFLO, many of which are conducted in partnership with USAID, focus on providing technical expertise to improve cold chain operations, training personnel who work in these areas, and in some cases even helping to develop and support associations of cold chain companies so they can share knowledge and work together in a more efficient manner to store and distribute food and other commodities.
ALREADY SEEING RESULTS
We are proud to have conducted cold chain development work with our partners in countries around the world, with our postharvest training programs serving as a model for emerging markets. Our goal is to create a sustainable integrated cold chain in our target markets, and in doing so we invest energy and expertise into training, technology transfer, resource development, association building, stakeholder partnering, and program evaluation.
It is important to note that we represent more than 1,000 cold chain companies in 65 countries that are interested in building the global food infrastructure, and that our public-private partnership efforts facilitate the growth and success in developing countries. Our project work is a long-term investment in people and infrastructure, with public initiative and funding followed by private investment and development.
For example, a cold chain training program in India funded by the U.S. Trade and Development Administration (USTDA) is followed with a $240 million corporate investment in the cold chain; while a USAID food safety project in the Ukraine is followed by a major infrastructure investment into a cold store in Kiev.
A feasibility study in Moldova conducted by our industry experts resulted in a fully operational vegetable packhouse, and a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) program allowed our industry to create The Philippines Cold Chain Association, which is still going strong today, providing a voice for the industry in the island nation. By using a wide array of industry technical experts on our projects, we are able to better understand the unique needs and challenges of each marketplace, such that the investments that follow a project are well-focused and practical.
However, we never lose sight of the value of simple solutions, including low-cost and no-cost alternatives to reduce spoilage, such as understanding the value of shade from a tree or an umbrella to lower temperatures, or the use of local water to remove field heat, and other low-cost solutions to improve quality while extending usable shelf life and reducing losses.
Whatever the solution, our mission is long-term sustainability. It is this public-private approach that empowered our partnership with USAID in its Partnership for Food Industry Development program, leading to measurable impact and success in Southern Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe. Through this program, more than 30 companies in the recipient countries received technical assistance and training from one of our member companies that volunteer their time and expertise. This has also led to sustainable business relationships with those countries and our members in the United States that participated in the program.
With this structure, concept, and vision, I told the forum participants that our mission is to remain an important and valued partner in combating global hunger.
It was especially gratifying for me to see how the companies in our industry supported my participation in this forum and were thrilled at the exposure it brought to the cold chain industry.
Mike Henningsen, Jr., chairman of the International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses, another GCCA Core Partner organization, said, “If you’ve ever wondered if what we do matters, I think Bill’s speech answers the question well. I’m very proud to be associated with our industry.”
The generosity and willingness of people across the cold chain industry to help and participate in these global missions has been brought home to me time and time again over the many years we have conducted these programs.
Public refrigerated warehouses often send their top technical experts overseas for weeks at a time to offer their assistance on a pro-bono basis, realizing that what strengthens the cold chain industry overseas will eventually mean a much stronger industry in the United States, because it will foster the import-export business. They also know that it is the right thing to do, because it helps alleviate world hunger just by preserving and distributing good food that is already available.
Consultants in our industry are equally generous with their time and expertise. While overseas projects sometimes generate new business for them, many times their work simply improves the cold chain in a given country and offers nothing tangible in return except for the satisfaction of a job well done for people who need help.
All these programs and activities are exciting to be a part of, and speaking at a UN Forum is just icing on the cake. I am already looking forward to the new programs we have underway and on the horizon. In just the past year WFLO has conducted approximately $1 million worth of overseas projects, and we look forward to growing this to even greater heights.
J. William Hudson has been president and CEO of the Global Cold Chain Alliance for more than 25 years. Comprised of its Core Partners, including the International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses, the World Food Logistics Organization, the International Refrigerated Transportation Association, and the International Association for Cold Storage Construction, the Global Cold Chain Alliance (GCCA) represents all major industries engaged in temperature-controlled logistics. For more information about GCCA, visit www.gcca.org.