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Eyes on the $2.3 Trillion Prize: Will the Food Industry Tap into the SDG’s Business Opportunities?

farm fieldWhy should corporations pay attention to the Sustainable Development Goals? For two major reasons: there are financial and environmental benefits to be had by companies that align their business models with them.

More than 190 world countries last year adopted the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that aim to tackle climate change, provide clean water and end poverty, among other ambitious targets, by 2030.

Several of these goals relate directly to the food and agriculture industries, such as Goal 2 (ending hunger), Goal 12 (responsible consumption and production) and Goal 13 (climate action).

Achieving these goals will require private sector investment — and could unlock new business opportunities worth about $2.3 trillion annually in the food and agriculture sector alone, according to research published today.

The study, commissioned by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, finds 14 business opportunities in food and agriculture. It says while these would require an annual investment of $320 billion, companies that take advantage of these opportunities will yield a seven-fold return on investment.

According to the study, the biggest of the 14 business opportunities is in reducing food waste in the value chain, which could yield up to $405 billion annually in economic benefits.

“Let’s start with food waste in the value chain,” says report author Fraser Thompson, director at AlphaBeta, in an interview. “Between 20 and 30 percent of food is wasted somewhere along the value chain, even before allowing for food waste at the point of consumption. The majority of losses in the value chain occur in developing countries, where poor storage facilities and inadequate transport infrastructure mean that a significant share of food is wasted after harvest.”

This, Thompson says, presents a range of business opportunities related to cold storage systems and food transportation.

“Pilot efforts in Benin, Cape Verde, India, and Rwanda have documented reductions of food loss by more than 60 percent during field trials of a variety of low-cost storage techniques and handling practices,” he said. “Of those available techniques, 81 percent were found to be able to increase the incomes of smallholders by more than 30 percent.”

Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever and member of the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, says the SDGs present a “clear moral case for change” as well as the “business opportunity of a lifetime.” He points to Unilever’s sustainability practices as proof.

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