Chicago Council Global Food Security Symposium by CEO, Sunny Verghese


    Too often, the challenges surrounding food security are tackled by different groups of experts in siloes. As a result, they can seem insurmountable, but in practice, real world solutions are possible.

    Forums like the Chicago Council Global Food Security Symposium are important catalysts – helping to integrate debate, break down these siloes and canvas holistic solutions.

    As a global agribusiness, addressing food security is one of six developmental challenges that Olam is concerned about. The others being, water security; climate change; energy security and building a new paradigm of sustainable and profitable growth without massively depleting “natural capital”. The sixth – how we reduce inequality and foster inclusive growth – underpins all others. These six challenges have interlocked causes.

    These challenges touch almost every aspect of life, business and politics today. Their scale and inter-dependency mean there is a real risk they can be placed in the “too hard” basket.

    We recognise that Olam is in a strong position to influence a new dynamic in how these challenges could be approached. In sourcing directly from 3.9 million smallholders, we see the issues firsthand on remote up-country farms. Then, as one of the world’s largest corporate farmers with our own large-scale plantations and farms from the USA to Africa, our teams are gaining constant insights about what it takes to get the best yield from highly specific (and changing) conditions – the ongoing drought in California being a case in point. By analysing this data from the developing world farmer with a 2 hectare plot through to industrial scale agri-operations, we are able to act as catalysts for multi-stakeholder collaboration in addressing this challenge.

    Together we must:

    • Increase productivity and yield for smallholder farmers through training, and provide financial, social and environmental support. Equally, recognise that the ability of large-scale farms to ‘grow responsibly’ is essential and that they can also embrace local smallholders to mutual benefit.
    • Contribute to nutrition through education, crop diversification and production of healthy packaged foods, while also reducing post-harvest losses and food waste.
    • Improve water usage and irrigation efficiency and use zero till farming to minimise land degradation.
    • Be active in public private partnerships, helping to shape policy frameworks that support inclusive and sustainable growth.

    And let us not forget innovation and a willingness to listen to what may, in fact, seem to go against the grain.

    One such example, the climate-smart methodology on the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), can only be described as counter-intuitive. It requires 80-90% fewer rice seeds than standard methods, up to 50% less water and often no fertiliser, yet yields are boosted by 20-50%, with farmers’ costs reduced by 10-20%.

    Housed at Cornell University New York, Professor Norman Uphoff and the SRI International Network and Resources Center’s work on researching and promoting these remarkable results has just been awarded the inaugural Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security, launched with our partner Agropolis Fondation. The international jury of experts were looking for an outstanding innovation that had a real and measurable impact on the availability, affordability, accessibility or adequacy of food. Professor Uphoff and his hundreds of colleagues around the world, through robust science and trials, have made SRI a reality on the ground, helping to positively impact 55 rice producing countries.

    It is a prime example of disruptive innovation in action – cutting across the multi-dimensional facets of the food security challenge. In my opinion, this challenging of the status quo is without doubt the most likely route to providing all the people in the world with enough of the right kind of food at a price they and their children can afford.


    Sunny Verghese Executive Director, Co-Founder and Group CEO

    Sunny Verghese was with the Kewalram Chanrai Group (KC Group) for over two decades and in 1989 was mandated to start the Company with a view to building an agricultural-products business for the KC Group. Before joining the KC Group, he worked for Unilever in India. Mr Verghese previously chaired CitySpring Infrastructure Management Pte Ltd, a listed Business Trust in Singapore and was also a Commissioner of the Business & Sustainable Development Commission (BSDC). He has won several awards including ‘Outstanding Chief Executive’ at theSingapore Business Awards in 2007, ‘Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year’ for Singapore in 2008 and ‘Best CEO of the Year 2011’ at the Singapore Corporate Awards. He was also awarded the Public Service Medal by the Government of the Republic of Singapore in 2010.

    At the beginning of 2018, Sunny Verghese officially took up his role as the new Chair of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the global, CEO-led organisation dedicated to accelerating the transition to a sustainable world.

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