Last year was a milestone year for raising awareness and advancing a global dialogue about the challenge of doubling food production by 2050 to combat hunger and malnutrition and meet the needs of a fast-growing population. Recent attention paid to the birth of the 7 billionth human on earth did much to help drive this global conversation. But looking ahead to 2012 and beyond, our challenge – in fact our imperative – must be to translate this momentum into action.

In 2000, the United Nations member states, together with international organizations, challenged the world to come together to address the Millennium Development Goals, first among them being the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger. We now have but three short years remaining to meet these goals. While much has been debated about the analytics and measurements driving the goals themselves, the simple, incontestable fact is that to thrive — and in many cases to survive — we as a global society must address poverty and hunger.

The two problems are inextricably linked. And we must come together – CEOs and NGOs, those focused on increasing productivity and those focused on environmental sustainability – if we are to have any hope of being successful.

According to the World Food Program, hunger is the number one health risk in the world, killing more people than malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis combined. By 2050 there will be 9.5 billion people living on earth. Today, nearly 1 billion people are already suffering from hunger and malnutrition in some of the fastest growing regions of the world. The challenge of doubling food production by 2050 will become more difficult as key resources become increasingly scarce and a changing climate creates unforeseen obstacles.

There is broad-based support for tackling hunger, which has been a key point of discussion in leadership meetings including the G20 and the World Economic Forum as well as the United Nations General Assembly meetings. While we can point to significant strides in areas like combating malaria and access to education, the most recent Millennium Development Goals Report indicates that our progress in addressing hunger has plateaued, and may have worsened in some regions.