The fragility of food security in the 21st century leads to sleepless nights for all involved in securing the supply chain. The intricate systems that support our fundamental nutritional needs are becoming increasingly frail and unpredictable. According to the 2022 Global Report on Food Crises, nearly 193 million people experienced crisis level or worse food insecurity in 2021, an increase of almost 40 million over the previous record in 2020.  Of course, reliable and secure access to food is a basic human right and is fundamental to our existence. Yet, we’re living through a time when securing food is no longer simple or straightforward. Unquestionably, the factors impacting food security vary greatly and are increasing, from population growth, energy prices and climate change to wars, biodiversity loss, pandemics and diseases. Any such disruptions can cause significant harm to our communities. Therefore, with rampant disruption, retailers must be proactive in securing robust, flexible, and diverse supply lines while consistently delivering on their customers’ wants and needs. The outcome of this ambition is vastly favourable, aligning with critical United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs). However, the pathway to achieving this broad outcome is all too often overlooked in favour of short-term objectives.

A Blueprint for Businesses to Take Action

The good news for grocery retailers is that effective action can be taken from the grassroots level. Consider the four pillars of food security: availability, access, utilisation and stability. Looking back over recent years, specifically the arrival of the pandemic, ensuring the four pillars remain intact has been quite difficult regionally and internationally. Writing from a region that experiences unfavourable climates, in addition to higher-than-average levels of food imports and in some countries, high per capita food waste, I believe that businesses today can have a greater impact on food security. What is arguably missing is a blueprint for collaboration and the necessary tactics required to achieve this outcome. In my experience as CEO of Majid Al Futtaim Retail, the strategy required is founded on relationships of mutual benefit.

Supporting local producers and suppliers is important in the new retail mix. Through stakeholder relationships, we must seek solutions to supply challenges by working collaboratively, bringing together our businesses in ways that reimagine operations and offerings to the customer. Teams like ours are adopting and developing initiatives to support local farmers and SMEs and encouraging the use of agritech solutions like hydroponic and aquaponic farming techniques. As a result, companies can source more products from the region to support local producers and suppliers, families and economies. Indeed, collaborations with the government too can increase the availability of locally grown produce across stores in home markets. Looking across the regional markets, developing direct sourcing partnerships with farmers through longer-term contracts that provide the necessary commitments for local growers to invest in expanding their crop yields are proving successful. Moreover, by working closely with them, it’s possible to ensure consistency in standards, even introducing new crops for them to grow. While also addressing food waste is an important element in the mix, it requires strategic community-level, customer-focused initiatives led by retailers. The resulting impact can be vital in efforts to support the consumer and achieve increasing levels of national food security. These are only a few thoughts on the tactics available to retailers to explore and develop – each supporting and strengthening the four pillars of food security.

How the MENA Region will Respond

One of Majid Al Futtaim’s many responses is our engagement with suppliers on the 10x20x30 initiative launched by Champions 12.3 and in alignment with The Consumer Goods Forum Food Waste Coalition; seeking to bring more companies together to create a multi-stakeholder approach to reducing food waste. This ground-breaking initiative brings together 10+ of the world’s largest food retailers and providers, each engaging at least 20 suppliers to halve food loss and waste by 2030. I believe these are necessary, even urgent, actions we must take to ensure the continued well-being of the communities we serve. As we are now experiencing, resilient food systems and supply chains emerge when businesses begin to view themselves as active stakeholders in a more extensive network. Now more than ever, the complexity of our modern food system demands this ecosystem approach. The result is greater collaboration and planning across the region’s key retail players – with local governments, producers and retailers capable of supplying demand shortfalls while supporting consumers in reducing food waste. Although food security is a complex, multi-stakeholder issue, private sector leaders are stepping up to ensure innovative programmes, partnerships and initiatives are developed for the consumer to ensure they have access to all the goods they need at an affordable price without compromising on quality.

As we inch closer to the end of 2022, the global situation is evolving – but it remains chaotic compared to pre-pandemic operations. Preventing a future food crisis and easing current impacts begins with the actions we take today. Let’s make a commitment to work together to identify solutions and share ideas. When we look back on this challenging period, I believe these decisions will be viewed as a fork in the road leading to a better future. The old saying is true: alone, we can do so little, but together we can do so much.