There’s more and more talk about the need for ‘sustainable value chains’, and some organisations are putting their money where their mouth is with sustainable sourcing approaches for some key commodities – Unilever’s and Sainsbury’s commitments to sustainable raw material sourcing and Woolworths’ (the South African retail chain) Farming for the Future initiative are just a few examples. But for many commodities, we’re still a long way from understanding what a sustainable value chain really means in practice. That’s why we want to define sustainable value chains for key commodities – such as grains - within the context of a resilient food system, and to help organisations collaborate to make those a reality.
In October, we ran a joint event with the UK Food and Drink Federation to start exploring some of these issues and potential solutions. The event focused on how these issues play out across the wheat value chain for UK organisations - one part of a bigger global grain picture. Who bears the risks related to these challenges? Who stands to reap the rewards for tackling them? And where are there mismatches between risk and reward that are stopping us finding and implementing sustainable solutions? The event showed that there's a clear appetite for collaboration to find ways to implement the solutions that people know are already within reach, and to develop new solutions, perhaps drawing lessons from other commodities facing similar issues. We'd like to build on this event. We're planning a project to explore a sustainable future for grains - and to design and implement practical actions to take us there.
Value chains in our food system face many challenges. If you look at grain, you'll see many of these challenges. Price speculation and volatility; rising costs of agricultural inputs; looming resource peaks such as phosphorous and oil; growing and changing demand for both food use and biofuels; waste throughout value chains from inadequate storage on farms to that mouldy loaf of bread we'd rather not admit to. And, climate change impacts already affecting key growing areas and the livelihoods of growers there. Australian farmers, for example, have been battling droughts and unseasonable wet weather in recent years and China is warning of a future drop in its grain harvest having already reported drought related losses.
It is in everyone's interests to tackle these challenges if we're going to feed a growing global population. There are significant issues – and opportunities - for businesses around the globe too. Businesses small and large - from farms to bakeries - have an opportunity to grasp significant rewards from implementing existing solutions or creating new ones. Getting it right can mean cost savings, reduced exposure to price volatility, sustained yields and ultimately a sustainable business supplying what we all need and always will…food! Unfortunately, many businesses still feel powerless - because of lack of resources, relationships, know-how and technology – to grasp the rewards available. Precision agriculture or better grain storage, for example, could both bring many benefits but are beyond the reach of many farmers who lack the know-how and/or investment required.
Contact me if you'd like a copy of the report from the October event or want to know more about our sustainable value chains work.