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Beyond Talk: Putting Private Capital to Work For the Future of Agriculture

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30 May 2017

On 28 April, at the G-20 meeting in Berlin, the Crop Trust hosted an Expert Panel entitled: Beyond talk: how to put private capital to work for the future of agriculture. The follow up will be at the EAT Stockholm Food Forum in Stockholm in a couple of weeks – there we also launch the new initiative “Food Forever.”



I am fully convinced that all of us working on safeguarding global common goods have to convince the private sector to move beyond talk. We can all see that Official Development Assistance (ODA) is leveling out, and that an increasing share is going to emergencies. The trend is not new, but it seems that for the foreseeable future we will be confronted with an increased focus on short-term political priorities, at the cost of long term goals. We should be concerned by this. There can quite simply be no sustainable future without wise decisions aimed at the long term. It would be naïve to think that the present trend will change, including because of the new media world surrounding us. It seems likely that politics will be more and more a question of reacting to tweets.

So should we lean back, throw our hands up and get depressed? No. There is a limit to what governments can – and should – do. Private sector has the responsibility and the maturity to pick up the slack. The private sector depends on a well functioning world order. Major global companies should be, and need to be, good global citizens because their business depends on a better- organized world. And I am happy to say that many business leaders want to do the right thing. But they need our help.

We’ve been talking about Public Private Partnerships (PPP) for many years. Far too little has happened. We need to go beyond talk, and there are encouraging signals from business.

We cannot say we have cracked the PPP nut at the Crop Trust, but we keep trying, and we love to discuss ideas with others.


We have developed an Investment Sharing Facility jointly with Deutsche Bank. It is still formally just a concept, but Deutsche Bank should be able to start selling the product this summer. The idea is quite simple: an investor puts money into an ESG-compliant equity mutual fund, a donating share class vehicle is added to it, and the investor can choose that the annual dividend income be channeled to the Crop Trust. We on our side have established a foundation under German law – the Crop Trust Foundation gGmbH – that allows German donors to benefit from income tax deductions.

We are excited about the potential of this mechanism – let’s hope investors are as well!

We are also excited that we have developed a global conservation strategy for coffee with World Coffee Research. Our next step is to have a conversation with the USD 70 billion coffee industry about the importance of conserving coffee diversity. The coffee crop faces challenges, not least that it is very climate sensitive: new varieties will need to be bred, and you can’t do that without making use of diversity that currently is under severe threat in many places. We assume the major coffee companies want to be in business in the years to come. If that’s the case, and as a coffee drinker I hope it is, it is in their best interests to contribute to the long-term conservation of coffee diversity.

The same rationale goes for other industries, which base themselves on the processing and marketing of crops.

I’m optimistic that we can involve financial investors and companies to a much larger extent than we have done before in our organization. I also believe there are private individuals that want to take a bigger personal responsibility for important issues, including safeguarding global common goods.

We have a friend in California who has decided to contribute to the conservation and breeding of grasspea.

Grasspea is an amazing crop. It is extremely nutritious and can grow in very harsh conditions. It saves lives.

There is, however, a downside: eating too much of it can leave you paralyzed or brain damaged. Try to imagine that there are people around the world who have to choose between starvation and running the risk of being paralyzed. By making use of the diversity of grasspea, scientists believe they can keep the good traits and get rid of the bad ones. It’s a difficult job, but for sure they will not succeed without access to diversity. We are grateful to our Californian friend for his dedication to contribute, and we firmly believe he will succeed. When he does, he will set a wonderful example and inspire others to do similar things.

Let me mention finally that it is very likely that we will be receiving a loan from the German Development Bank (KfW), with an interest subsidy from the German Development Ministry. This is another great example of how business-run entities and governments can jointly help out in a semi- PPP.

There are other ideas we are playing around with, but for the time being I leave it here. We are very keen to discuss these issues with anybody who has ideas and contacts – our own Executive Board, existing partners, other organizations, private individuals, companies and investors.

If we build on simple structures and full transparency, we believe there are plenty of opportunities to develop real, concrete, successful partnerships between the public and private spheres – beyond small talk.

Best regards from all of us in Bonn,



The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Crop Trust. The Crop Trust is committed to publishing a diversity of opinions on crop diversity conservation and use.

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