A Food Crisis of ‘Biblical Proportions’

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COVID-19 could bring a food crisis of “biblical proportions” to Africa, which is already suffering from changing weather patterns and a plague of locusts, World Food Program head David Beasley told the UN recently. Beasley’s warning has prompted action from at least one company—Yara, the global fertilizer giant based in Norway (and featured on Fortune’s Change the World list.)

Yara CEO Svein Tore Holsether told me Friday the company has committed $25 million to provide food to a million people in the region. Africa is a small part of Yara’s business—less than 5{4bae5313c1ffa697ce99995897f7847f1ebf3bca0fb7c37396bb602eb24323d3}. “From an economic and reputation standpoint, it is probably better not to be in Africa at all,” he said. “But our mission is to responsibly feed the world and protect the planet.” With that as the company’s purpose, how can starvation in Africa be ignored?

Some might ask whether Africa’s problem is better left to the WFP and other aid organizations. But Holsether believes public-private partnerships are essential. “The focus of foreign aid is to help the immediate problem. But unless we do something to address the longer term,” problems will keep reoccurring. By providing both premium fertilizer and a digital knowledge platform to as many as 250,000 smallholder farms, Holsether thinks Yara can help triple their yields and find markets for their products. He is encouraging other global companies to support the effort. If you are interested in participating, reach out to him: [email protected].

Separately, while Juneteenth has passed, the effort to make it a paid holiday in the U.S. continues. Teneo CEO Declan Kelly told me last night that he’s teaming up with the advocacy group Global Citizen and celebrities including Pharrell Williams and Ellen DeGeneres to launch a pledge drive, starting this morning, to get U.S. companies on board. “This requires leadership from CEOs to make it happen,” Kelly said. Companies already committed, according to Kelly, include Airbnb, Adidas, HP, The J.M. Smucker Co., Starbucks and Under Armour.

Tomorrow is also the final day to nominate someone for Fortune’s 40 under 40 list. Submit your suggestions here.

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Alan Murray

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