16 October 2013 – Today is World Food Day, a day of global action against hunger. To meet future food demand as worldwide population increases, we need an additional 2.7 million hectares of farmland per year. Or do we?

“Not necessarily”, says CABI CEO, Dr Trevor Nicholls. “While this is part of the solution, we also need to produce more smartly and waste less.” Smallholder farmers grow around 70% of the world’s food, but lose a huge proportion of this figure to waste. We can help reduce this waste by better integrating smallholders into the global food supply chain and helping them understand and implement simple principles of supply chain management. In so doing, we not only improve their long-term livelihoods, but also work towards reducing waste and meeting the commercial and consumer food demands of the future.

Much attention has been paid to commercial and consumer food waste, but tackling waste globally at the production end of the scale by working with smallholder farmers is relatively new. Through collaboration and knowledge transfer, food and drink companies can improve smallholder practices, resources and skills, and ultimately strengthen and future-proof their own value chain.

“Linking the producer and corporate agendas is a win-win situation,” says Dr Nicholls. “The crux of the issue is collaborating and sharing knowledge to reduce waste. Practical steps must be taken to improve specific issues like plant health – essential, as such a large percentage of food currently grown worldwide is lost to plant pests and diseases. But alongside this work, sharing principles in supply chain management will help smallholders deliver more and lose less.”

The problems smallholders typically face include knowing how to produce at the rate of demand; how to produce food that matches regulatory or retail specifications; and how to distinguish what adds value, not cost. Smallholders can fall short of the standards required by global manufacturers and retailers, which is why it is so important for companies in the supply chain, and organisations like CABI, to work with them today and help them raise their game for tomorrow. We need to ask how we can help more smallholder farmers develop their skills and become an integral part of the chain.

The theme of this year’s World Food Day is ‘sustainable food systems’ – sustainable ways of producing and consuming food. CABI wants to draw attention to the opportunities of smallholder-corporate collaboration for sustainability, for improving producers’ lives, for strengthening value chains, and for meeting the food production needs of the future.

Here is just one of the many projects CABI is undertaking to tackle food security.