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Public private partnerships in global food governance: business engagement and legitimacy in the global fight against hunger and malnutrition


This article compares two transnational public–private partnerships against hunger and malnutrition, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition and the International Alliance Against Hunger with regard to their degree of business involvement and their input and output legimacy. We examine the participation of stakeholders, the accountability and transparency of the decision-making process, and the perceived provision of a public good. We identify a link between business involvement and output legitimacy, and we discuss the implications for public and private food governance.

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  1. A fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger had already been recognized in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which was adopted in 1966 and entered into force in 1976.

  2. The target to “[r]educe by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger” is part of MDG Number 1.

  3. MDG 8 calls upon member states and the UN “[t]o develop strong partnerships with the private sector and with civil society organizations in pursuit of development” (UN General Assembly 2000: 5); see also the World Food Summit Plan for Action (1996), which suggests that governments form partnerships with civil society.

  4. Buse and Harmer (2007) have a narrower definition of PPP and therefore look at a smaller sample of only 23 GHPs.

  5. Although GAIN does not publicize the list of members in the Business Alliance, companies are free to mention the membership themselves.

  6. Bioversity International is acting in the IAAH on behalf of the Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

  7. We omit another aspect of legitimacy, the deliberative quality of the process of rule-making (cf. Dingwerth 2007).

  8. For example, Scharpf (1999) claims that a measure can only be output-legitimate if it is pareto-optimal, i.e. serves the interests of all participants best.

  9. “In terms of micronutrients, there are four strategies, which are not mutually exclusive, and they are: diversification, food fortification, supplementation, and public health measures […]. We recognize that the other three [strategies] play an important role, depending on the location, the country, or the time period, the season. All these four strategies may have different roles to play. And we should not have an emphasis on any of those four, which would be to the detriment of the other three. This is my concern about fortification when it is pushed unnaturally” (Interview FAO #2).

  10. Since June 2009, GAIN has published its statutes on its website.

  11. Like GAIN, both are transnational PPPs in which the BGMF is strongly involved.

  12. An FAO official argued that this problem of a distinct identity and clear vision provides problems for the IAAH, especially when trying to attract potential partners for funding: “If you ask a donor to provide money, to whom is the donor giving the money? This is not clear if you look at the IAAH.” (Interview FAO #4). A NGO interviewee also mentioned the broad mission of the IAAH evolving from the WFS-fyl and the lack of clear goals (NGO #2).

  13. One FAO consultant in the field argued that this kind of level playing field support is highly appreciated by farmers, who prefer it to support by IOs or NGOs. One reasons is expertise, another is trust: the farmer trusts the expert because both need to create their income from farming (Interview FAO #5).


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This article refers to results of the SFB700-project “Transnational Public Private Partnerships for Environment, Health, and Social Rights: Determinants of Success”, part of the Berlin Collaborative Research Center “Governance in Areas with Limited Statehood” (, which is funded by the German Research Council (DFG). For the general framework see Beisheim et al. (2005) and Beisheim et al. (2007: 247–271), for an earlier comparison of IAAH and GAIN see Beisheim et al. (2007). For a general discussion of the PPP literature in IR see Schäferhoff et al. (2009). We thank Sabine Campe, Nicole Helmerich, Marco Schäferhoff, the participants of the symposium on private governance in the global agro-food system in Münster (Germany), the guest editors of this issue and the two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on previous versions of this article. For their assistance with research and editing we thank Jan Dobbernack, Julia Schilling and Malte Tepe.

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Correspondence to Andrea Liese.

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Kaan, C., Liese, A. Public private partnerships in global food governance: business engagement and legitimacy in the global fight against hunger and malnutrition. Agric Hum Values 28, 385–399 (2011).

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  • Public-private partnerships
  • Transnational governance
  • Legitimacy
  • Business participation
  • Hunger
  • Malnutrition