We Need Clean Investments in Our Supply Chains from Field to Fork
The COP21 climate talks in Paris attracted world leaders to discuss how to adapt to and mitigate climate change risks. The negotiations brought attention to the threat climate change poses to the private sector and agriculture. Globally, small farmers make up one of the most important frontline communities that are already facing the challenges of a rapidly changing climate. Even with our dependence on these small farmers, they now find themselves with little international support on how to fight this challenge to their livelihood. Partnerships with stakeholders are needed to boost investment and education to help frontline farmers stem the impacts of climate change and build a climate resilient future.
With the earth’s population projected to reach 9.6 billion by mid-century, the planet can no longer afford its unsustainable food system. Empowering farmers to lead as global actors will be a crucial turning point. Adaptation projects would help address farmers’ immediate needs, like dealing with unpredictable rainfall, improving water management practices and afforestation/rehabilitation of degraded land. With many small farms struggling to break the poverty line, developing and financing these adaptation projects opens up a whole new list of issues. Currently, only about one-sixth of climate change finance goes to adaptation and resiliency measures. While mitigation is necessary to combatting future climate change risks adaptation is a need of equal importance, affecting communities right now.
Climate change and agricultural productivity are highly interdependent issues that confront our global food system. With rising temperatures and more erratic rainfall, many crops are failing, pest and disease outbreaks are becoming more common and many traditional farming systems are no longer viable. Dr. Evelyn Nguleka, president of the World Farmers Organization says farmers across the globe are already seeing these changes. “There is a complete change in seasonality, when we expect it to change, and when we expect it to stop,” she says.
When looking at the impacts of climate change, the agricultural sector will see the worst effects by mid to late century. At the same time agriculture also accounts for a large part of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Typically, estimates of GHG emissions from agriculture are around 11 percent to 15 percent of global emissions. But looking at food production more broadly to include emissions from land-use change and processing, packaging, transport and sale of agricultural products, the number jumps to nearly 50 percent, according to the UN’s 2013 Trade and Environment Review. For food, beverage and agriculture companies, as much as 90 percent of total emissions is in their supply chains. Our global food system will be threatened by growing climate impacts. Small global farmers are those who stand to lose the most. They should hold an important seat in this discussion.
Most developing countries rely primarily on agriculture as the engine of economic growth, largely because it is the biggest employer and makes up a large percentage of gross national product (GNP) and foreign currency. But the policymaking processes in these countries has often failed to provide the optimal policy outcomes that could increase agricultural productivity for a growing population sustainably. Smallholder communities across the world are responding to these challenges. The Ugandan smallholder farmers that make up Kayonza Growers Tea Factory Ltd launched a farmer leadership program in partnership with Cafedirect Producers’ Foundation and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture to tackle a broad range of issues required for their communities to adapt to climate-related stresses. The results are impressive with upwards of 4,000 farmers trained, improved access to clean water and over 20,000 indigenous trees re-planted. Energy efficiency measures have led to reduction in local fuel wood consumption.
Similar groups are promoting collaboration along the agricultural value chain. The International Cocoa Farmers Organization, an international umbrella organization for cocoa farmers and workers, collaborates with stakeholders in the cocoa value chain. Their efforts to promote the farmer’s voice ensure a transparent sustainable cocoa sector that meets global standards.
Using their expert knowledge of the land, smallholder communities have been at the forefront of developing a range of innovative approaches to adapt to climate change’s adverse effects. These efforts often yield lasting results. A recent study found that investments in smallholder adaptation can deliver mitigation co-benefits. Through adaptation projects, smallholders can yield agricultural productivity while restoring degraded ecosystems and reducing carbon footprint along the supply chain.
For the private sector, the 500 million small farms in the developing world represent a huge opportunity to source products and inputs sustainably and inclusively. The supply chain is one of the most critical areas of opportunity to develop climate resilience, both through emissions reduction and adaptation. The trend toward collaboration and stakeholder engagement is clear. There has been an increasing tendency for companies to become better engaged with their stakeholders.
Why are companies engaging? The underlying notion is that partnerships between businesses and other stakeholders can drive sustainable development. Innovative companies are drawing on these trends and understand the interdependence between stakeholders on the global scale. A majority have recognized that said cooperation can even improve business performance and project results. Equal Exchange, a company selling fair foods, works with small farmer organizations to build long-term transparency along the supply chain. The company’s business model fosters relationships between farmers, consumers and retailers to create more equitable and sustainable world. As of last year, Vermont-based Green Dream Farm expects to lower its GHG emissions by 12,900 metric tons over the next 10 years and save $30,000 annually as the result of a partnership with Ben & Jerry’s and NativeEnergy.
While more companies are investing in stakeholder engagement, data suggest that not enough companies are actively embracing the opportunity in their supply chains. The partnership approach promotes interaction and sharing of ideas and can go a long way in promoting a sustainable food system. Smallholder farmers are an essential part of this solution. Collaboration among stakeholders will deliver much-needed investments in these frontline communities. As many other industries and businesses begin to face the challenges of a changing climate, local farms across the globe are dealing with it in this very growing season. From field to fork, innovative and cooperative efforts are the key driver to generating solutions across the supply chain.
Kate Galbo is the policy coordinator of the Climate Action Business Association. Special Thanks to Kisilu for talking with us and helping with this piece. To learn more about Kisilu’s story check out The Climate Diaries.
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