Kim Nelson is Senior Vice President for External Relations at General Mills , based in Minneapolis, Minn. She oversees the General Mills Foundation, Corporate Communications, Government Relations, Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility.

As part of USAID’s 50th Anniversary, the Agency is celebrating Public-Private Partnerships Week October 17-21, 2011 to highlight the mutual benefit that development and business have in establishing public-private partnerships (PPP) and to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Global Development Alliance (GDA) program.

In sub-Saharan Africa, where over 265 million people are hungry, more than a quarter of the food produced rots due to poor harvest or storage techniques, post-harvest losses caused by severe weather, or disease and pests. While traditional philanthropy is critical to addressing hunger in Africa, real change cannot take place unless we broaden our approach to include a sustainable, long-term solution that improves the overall food supply chain.

I recently made a trip to Africa to see first-hand the work General Mills is doing through a public-private partnership with USAID. I saw how Partners in Food Solutions (PFS), an innovative hunger-fighting non-profit launched by General Mills, is linking the technical and business expertise of hundreds of volunteer employees to small and medium-sized food processors in Africa. PFS aims to strengthen the food supply chain, and in turn, raise living standards and create market opportunities for small-holder farmers.

During my visit, I saw how PFS and USAID are influencing concrete improvements in operations and efficiency among food processors, from basic cleanliness to equipment enhancements. By improving technology at the local food processor level, these food processors are able to expand, hire and source more products from small-holder farmers. The farmers, with additional income, can stave off hunger, pay school fees, get better medical care and start new businesses.

PFS is founded on the belief that improving the capacity of the food processing sector in Africa can be catalytic in fighting hunger. Recently, General Mills expanded PFS and brought on likeminded partners, Cargill and DSM, to broaden the organization’s reach and impact.

USAID is also a critical partner in PFS’ work. USAID and PEPFAR have helped shape and guide Partners in Food Solutions and share their respective strengths, experiences, methodologies and resources through a public-private partnership formed in 2010. The partnership is focused on improving the capacity of small and medium-sized enterprises in the food sector across sub-Saharan Africa to produce healthy, fortified food products, and improving access to such products for people affected by HIV/AIDS and others in the region.

As a new nonprofit, PFS aims to broaden over the next five years to include as many as 10 corporate partners working with 200 Africa based food processors who purchase from more than 500,000 small-holder farmers in as many as 14 African nations.

Poverty in parts of Africa is crushing. But, it’s encouraging to see what PFS, with the support of USAID, has been able to accomplish in a short period of time, and energizing to see first-hand how empowering people with knowledge can transform lives.

Kim Nelson is the senior vice president of External Relations at General Mills, based in Minneapolis, Minn.  Read more about the work of General Mills here:

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