One of the country’s top agribusiness professionals has been awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia in recognition of his efforts to help improve the lives of people in some of the poorest countries in the world.
Simon Costa, previously the CEO of the largest horticulture and supply chain company in the Southern Hemisphere – has spent the last eight years working with agricultural communities in Africa to improve the supply and storage of food in an effort to beat poverty and hunger.
In 2012, Costa travelled to Africa as a volunteer for the United National World Food Programme to provide practical solutions for widespread agricultural issues.
“Everywhere I went, the priority seemed to be studying the problem, not solving the problem,” he said.
“I was confronted by so many agricultural, supply chain and marketing problems which didn’t exist in developed countries. This told me a solution existed.”
One of the stark realisations for Costa was not a shortage of food, but rather serious gaps in storage and logistics.
“In the same regions where countless people are severely malnourished, there are millions of tonnes of food produced every year and never consumed, as a result of some very simple efficiencies in the supply chain,” he said.
“The farmers know how to grow the crops but they have never had the education or equipment required to handle and store them correctly after harvest, resulting in up to 50 per cent of food production being lost before consumption.”
Costa’s observations have lead to a series of projects in western and eastern Africa, and to date have improved the sustainability of more than 43,000 farms and 16,000 farming families. Funding has been sourced through several philanthropic channels including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, facilitating thousands of training sessions and providing hundreds of thousands of pieces of storage and handling equipment within just a few short years.
Initially, some of the farmers took some time to come around to Mr Costa’s suggestions.
“When we started introducing the storage silos there was an enormous sense of disbelief amongst the farming communities. When I told them they could store food in a silo for 12 months they laughed.”
The project evolved to facilitate loans, access to better inputs, to develop markets for farmers to sell their produce, along with the establishment of a strategic partnership between the UN and private and public agricultural partners with the aim of providing better education for farmers.
“The consortium has established a clear pathway for global food security, greatly reducing poverty and starvation in the process.”
The alliance is tracking to become the first humanitarian development initiative to work with one million families by 2020 and has been awarded the UNWFP Global Innovation Challenge Award, an accolade that Costa challenges.
“If we had invented something, then give us an award for innovation. But all we did was look at what was working in developed countries, that had not been introduced in Africa, and join the dots.”