From row crops to rainforests: how agriculture affects us all

Happy Agriculture Day! Whether you have a special interest in agriculture or not, we’re guessing that—as a human being—you probably have an interest in food

But, on this Agriculture Day, we want to recognize and celebrate the farmers and ranchers while acknowledging the fact that we all play a part in the growing of food. In just a few decades, there will be two billion more people to feed on the planet. As a global community our challenge is to feed this growing population sustainably without depleting the soil, polluting our water and worsening global warming.

The statistics are eye opening. Global food production accounts for:

  • 33% of the world’s GHG emissions
  • 70% of the world’s water consumption
  • 80% of deforestation worldwide
  • 50% of global top soil loss

What’s behind these huge numbers? When we look deeper, the problem looks different depending upon which side of the equator you’re on. From row crops to rainforests, here’s a snapshot of what’s happening, both in terms of the problem and the solution:

Domestic Agriculture                         

When we think about how we will feed an additional 2 billion people, improving yields will be critical to meet demand. Fertilizer is an essential nutrient that will help to increase the yields we need. But with less than half of nutrients applied each season being actually absorbed by crops, the unused fertilizer is bad for the planet:

  • US food production accounts for 75% of nitrous oxide emissions and has contributed to the pollution of nearly 40% of US drinking water supply;
  • Excess fertilizer and pollution is washing off of farm fields and into water ways degrading coastal ecosystems and causing algae blooms.

At the same time, this also hurts farmers financially. Fertilizer represents their single biggest input cost, so when nearly $420 million in fertilizer washes off Midwestern farm fields and into the Gulf of Mexico every year, it’s tough to remain profitable.

EDF’s work* with  Walmart, Smithfield Foods, Campbell’s Soup, Land O’ Lakes and other food companies is proving that efficient fertilizer use reduces supply chain emissions and saves money. It just needs to happen more: when food companies, retailers, and other supply chain actors send the demand for scientifically based and economically viable strategies for using fertilizer more efficiently, sustainable practices will expand and far less impact will be placed on the environment.

Agriculture and Deforestation

Agriculture is the largest single cause of deforestation. Everyday forest lands in Brazil and other tropical countries are burned down to grow crops or to create cattle pastures for beef production. The exploitation of the tropical forests for the big four agricultural commodities, palm oil, beef, soy, and pulp and paper, contributes significantly to climate change.

Deforestation accounts for about 15% of global carbon emissions annually. Hundreds of major consumer goods companies have committed to eliminating deforestation from their supply chains.

The challenge is twofold: how to increase agricultural production in these topical regions to support the livelihoods of local communities and growing global consumer needs, while fulfilling companies’ zero-deforestation commitments to reduce carbon emissions?

The solution lies in multi-stakeholder engagement. Brazil’s experience shows that collaboration between companies, government agencies and local communities within a region can successfully reduce deforestation while maintaining robust growth in production. The country successfully reduced Amazon deforestation by about 75% from 2005 to 2013.

Katie Anderson, Project Manager, EDF+Business

When executed properly, these jurisdictional approaches provide win-win-win opportunities. Companies have a new way to meet zero deforestation commitments in supply chains by sourcing from lower risk areas and reduce the risk that deforestation will spread to other suppliers. Governments have additional support to improve policies and productivity in their regions. Farmers have the needed incentives and assistance to increase sustainability and profitability on their lands.

Partnership is the key

So it’s clear: our food has costs beyond our wallets, in the form of greenhouse gases, water quality, water scarcity, biodiversity, and other important impacts that we don’t see each day when we sit down at the table.

But the good news is, there’s a lot of movement—or potential for movement— across the food supply chains, from retailers to growers to consumers, to promote sustainable practices on a multitude of food and agriculture issues.

Theresa Erhlich, Project Coordinator, Supply Chain

To tackle these costs, everyone along the food chain needs to realize that there is no free lunch (pun very much intended):

  • At EDF, we are working in collaboration with farmers, companies, governments, and other NGO’s to address these issues and reduce the impact of our food supply chains.
  • Companies (including: food companies, retailers and other supply chain actors) need to consistently send the demand signal to farmers that they want less deforestation and more efficient fertilizer use.
  • Consumers play an important role by sending our own demand signal for more sustainably produced food by thanking the companies leading the way in sustainability through shopping power.

So today take a moment think about where our food is comes from, and the hard work and energy that went into its approaches to feed people and protect our planet.

* EDF takes no money from our corporate partners—we are funded solely through grants, donations and membership. 

Now trending in global business: collective action on deforestation

edf-business-of-food-blog-graphic_shelton-grp_12-7-16With U.S. policy engagement on climate action in limbo, the rest of the world is marching forward. As major CEOs and political leaders gathered at the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, clear support was shown for creative investment in clean energy, sustainable development and other climate change mitigation practices.

While many ideas were discussed, however, one topic emerged as both a driver of climate impact and an opportunity area for huge climate benefits: deforestation.

Two major initiatives around deforestation were launched at the WEF:

A fund to catalyze private investment in deforestation-free agriculture was announced by the Norwegian government, the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), UN Environment, the Global Environmental Facility, and many other supporters. Their goal? To help fund sustainable intensification of agriculture in jurisdictions which are effectively working toward reducing deforestation. The fund will be operational by middle of 2017 and aims to protect over 5 million hectares of forest and peatlands through its projects by 2020. 

Norway pledged up to $100 million, with a capitalization goal of $400 million from other donors and private sector partners. The model aims to engage even more private sector financing, for a total investment of $1.6 billion by 2020. The Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 and major food giants like Carrefour, Marks & Spencer, Mars, Nestle and others are expressing support. Unilever is the first corporate leader to commit funding, with a pledge of $25 million over the next 5 years.

A plan to use big data to monitor and trace the raw materials in major corporations’ supply chains. Led by the World Resources Institute, the initiative has major support from food companies such as Bunge, Cargill, Walmart, and others, with a total combined value of $2.9 trillion.

The goal is to build a decision-support system to help companies track progress and real-time challenges associated with their deforestation commitments. The tool will enable corporations to make real-time decisions about geographies to prioritize in their deforestation reduction work, and get alerts when illegal activities are happening in those regions. While the tool is still in very early stages, the future could be bright.

Deforestation-free sourcing? There’s an app for that!

Deforestation_in_Panama

Two initiatives… powerful trends

So: what do these two initiatives—one helping to ensure that farming already-cleared land becomes more productive, and one helping companies shed light on the complex, murky labyrinth of their global supply chains—tell us about emerging trends in global climate leadership?

  1. Forests matter: Stakeholders understand the importance of forests for climate and supply chain stability. The impressive list of participants and lofty goals show that forests have become part of the main stage for how to address climate change globally. Deforestation contributes about 15% of greenhouse gas emissions annually, but can also be a major carbon sink if managed appropriately. Corporations understand that forests are vital for reducing reputational risk in product lines, ensuring stable weather patterns that can produce viable crops into the future, and increasing the resiliency of major geographic regions against drought and flooding. These new commitments indicate that action on forests as part of the climate dialogue are here to stay.
  1. Collective action is the right tool: Companies see the value in working collectively on effective solutions for deforestation reduction. Corporations know that there is significant risk in not engaging effectively on forests, both for the climate and for their supply chains. But the more challenging question to date has been: how? Over 350 companies have made public commitments to reduce deforestation related to major agricultural commodities in their supply chains. However, only one-third of these companies report on how they will reach these goals. These two new initiatives show the value of collective action between companies, non-profits,
    Katie Anderson, Project Manager, EDF+Business

    Katie Anderson, Project Manager, EDF+Business

    and governments to engage effectively in the multi-faceted challenge of deforestation-free sourcing. The days of working in silos, simply along supply chain boundaries, are no longer the most effective strategies. Working together provides new, creative solutions that can have an impact across entire regions rather than solely withinthe boundaries of sourcing relationships.

  1. There is still much to be done. While these initiatives are important signals of major trends within the deforestation space, they are still only in their infancy. Time will tell if the stakeholders engaged will be able to actualize the ambitious goals and creative thinking embedded in these ideas.

But, I’m optimistic. What emerged out of Davos tells me that the collective work of these major corporations can get us to where we need to go: productive, economically viable agricultural supply chains without destroying critical forest habitat upon which we all rely.

Will the U.S. join this trend toward collective action? The jury is still out on that one.

 

 

Less-Risky Business: Turning Deforestation Commitments into Action

By Alisha Staggs, Project Manager, Corporate Partnerships, and Ben Young, Intern, Corporate Partnerships

Deforestation in Brazil

Deforestation in Brazil

Increasingly, major companies are seeing forest protection as a key component of their global strategy. However, many companies have yet to identify the concrete action steps to fulfill these goals.

Why not? Most likely because the agricultural landscape is complicated.

Major food retailers illustrate perfectly the complexities of the modern agricultural supply chain. These international corporations are tasked with managing a complex supply web of beef, coffee, soy, and other products that spans continents. Increasingly, the environmental impacts of these commodities cannot be viewed in isolation.

In Brazil, for instance, research suggests that increased demand for soy has pushed cattle ranching onto less productive land within the Amazon. While the cattle ranchers may be directly responsible for deforestation, the ultimate driver is the soy demand. On top of that, production of palm oil, another priority product for many consumer goods companies, is expected to more than double in the Amazon biome over the next decade.

So— how can a company ensure they are sourcing sustainable commodities without destroying the rainforest in the process? Read more

Less-Risky Business: 5 Reasons Companies Should Fight Deforestation

By Alisha Staggs, Project Manager, Corporate Partnerships, and Ben Young, Intern, Corporate Partnerships

forest-lossOver the last 12 months, we’ve seen a number of companies commit to reducing deforestation in their supply chain. At last count, 273 companies have made some sort of deforestation pledge across a multitude of agricultural commodities.

Yet, we often find ourselves questioning the sincerity of these claims. Are these companies simply trying to save face? Surely any action to avoid deforestation will be costly, and companies aren’t known for taking on added expenses voluntarily. So what’s in it for them?

The answer: a lot. Here are the top 5 factors that catalyze corporate leaders into taking global forest loss seriously: Read more

Linking Supply Chains and REDD+ to Reduce Deforestation

Two tropical forest conservation efforts have gained momentum in recent years: zero deforestation commitments from the private sector and the policy framework Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+). Both efforts are necessary, but not sufficient in themselves to eliminate global deforestation.

Zero Deforestation Zones

Private sector conservation initiatives on individual farms (represented by green trees in the left image) can result in pockets of forest surrounded by deforestation, but Zero Deforestation Zones can conserve forests throughout entire jurisdictions (represented by the green state-wide program in the right image). Credit: Rick Velleu, EDF

In a recently published paper in the Journal of Sustainable Forestry, we find that linking REDD+ and zero deforestation commitments offers a more efficient and effective solution to stop deforestation, which we call Zero Deforestation Zones (ZDZ).

The current state of private initiatives and REDD+

Deforestation, which is responsible for 15% of global greenhouse gases, is primarily caused by conversion for the production of four commodities in Brazil and Indonesia: beef, soy, palm, and timber products. To address this urgent problem, companies that control more than 90% of soy purchases in the Amazon, around half of cattle slaughter in the Brazilian Amazon, and 96% of palm oil trade globally have committed to stop deforestation. Read more

Powerful Business: The Lever for Change Across the Supply Chain

Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.
-Archimedes

Sometimes when a problem seems too big, too ugly and too complex to handle, you need a lever to help move things along.  All of the big environmental problems we currently face fall into this category.

When it comes to tackling our planet’s biggest problems, there is a full spectrum of approaches and many different leverage points. For me, the most important lever is business. A thriving planet and a thriving economy don’t have to be at odds. EDF is focusing on helping businesses make their supply chains cleaner, more efficient and more profitable.

Working with powerful business has been a cornerstone of EDF’s approach ever since we launched our 1st partnership with McDonald’s 25 years ago. Since then, we have kick-started market transformations in fast food with McDonalds and Starbucks, shipping with FedEx, retail with Walmart, and private equity with KKR. With each partnership, we’ve worked to create new, sustainable demand signals that extend across the supply chain. When powerful business speaks, suppliers listen. EDF is helping the most impactful companies commit to selling sustainably-produced products, encouraging every supplier and producer contributing to those products to also adopt more sustainable practices. Read more

McDonald’s New Super-Sized Deforestation Commitment: 4 Things You Should Know

logo-mcdonalds

Just in time for Earth Day, McDonald’s has released a new global deforestation commitment. While this policy is new, the company is no stranger to the issue. In fact, McDonald’s was one of the first companies to be confronted in the 1980s as consumers began to recognize the “Hamburger Connection” between beef production and tropical forests. In response, the company established its Amazon Policy, which prohibited the sourcing of beef from the Amazon. Seventeen years later, McDonald’s was instrumental in creating the Soy Moratorium, an industry-wide effort which has effectively halted soy expansion on native vegetation in the Amazon Biome. (Soy is a major source of feed for chickens and other livestock).

Now, following a wave of commitments from agricultural giants such as Cargill and ADM, the new global policy is a first-of-its-kind in the fast food sector and, if executed correctly, could stand as a shining example for other companies in the food business to follow. As one of the world’s most recognized brands, McDonald’s knows any commitment with such a large impact on the planet – tropical forests are one of the largest contributors to, and buffers against, climate change – will be heavily scrutinized. So, what do we need to know as we watch this journey unfold? To radically simplify, four things come to mind:

Read more

Working Towards Zero-Deforestation: Lessons from Acre, Brazil

This post is our second in a series on how companies can reduce deforestation from their supply chains. Read the first post here.

What do companies, governments, civil society organizations and indigenous peoples have in common? Despite their differences, they share a common interest in reducing deforestation, which accounts for 12% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

UN Climate Summit logo

On September 23rd, leaders from all of these groups will meet at the UN Climate Summit in New York City to spark action on climate change issues including deforestation. The Climate Summit hopes to rally action around two forest efforts, creating incentives to reduce deforestation in tropical countries through REDD+ policies (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) and eliminating deforestation from the supply chains of commodities such as palm, beef, soy and paper.

The Board of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF)—a group of 400 companies with combined sales of around $3.5 trillion—has committed to help achieve zero net deforestation by 2020. However, CGF has also recognized that they cannot solve deforestation on their own, and have called on governments to make REDD+ a priority in a legally binding UN climate agreement in 2015

At EDF, we believe that REDD+ is the best way to reduce deforestation and promote sustainable economic development and that consumer goods companies are in a prime position to support REDD+ in the countries they source from.

Read more

Moving Beyond Commitments: Collaborating to End Deforestation

Deforestation can pose significant operational and reputational risks to companies, and we at EDF are seeing companies start to take action in their supply chains. Deforestation accounts for an estimated 12% of overall GHG emissions worldwide–as much global warming pollution to the atmosphere as all the cars and trucks in the world. In addition, deforestation wipes out biodiversity and ravages the livelihoods of people who live in and depend on the forest for survival.

Tropical deforestation in Mato Grosso do Sul, Pantanal, Brazil (Source: BMJ via Shutterstock)

Tropical deforestation in Mato Grosso do Sul, Pantanal, Brazil (Source: BMJ via Shutterstock)

Unfortunately, it’s a hugely complex issue to address. Agricultural commodities like beef, soy, palm oil, paper and pulp—ingredients used in a wide variety of consumer products—drive over 85% of global deforestation. Companies struggle to understand both their role in deforestation, and how to operationalize changes that will have substantive impacts.

When the drivers of deforestation are buried deep in the supply chain, innovative and collaborative solutions are required. In the past several years, we have seen many in this space make big commitments toward solving the problem, but gaining transparency into tracking against these commitments has been almost as difficult as gaining transparency into the supply chains themselves.  For many companies, the hope for making good on their promises may come in the form of powerful partnerships.

Read more

Feeding the Planet—Without Ruining It

Nestle. Unilever. Walmart. Kellogg’s. Colgate-Palmolive. What do these companies have in common? They’re just a few of the global companies that have committed publicly over the last few years to work towards ridding their supply chains of raw agricultural commodities that directly cause deforestation.

Deforestation in Brazil

Global deforestation is responsible for roughly 12 percent of world-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (IPCC)—more than double those generated by the entire U.S. electricity sector (EIA). In addition, deforestation is the greatest driver of biodiversity loss in the world, displaces indigenous populations and can drive major regional changes in weather patterns. Agricultural production drives 85 percent of global deforestation (Union of Concerned Scientists).

You may be thinking, “Why should that concern my company? We aren’t in a sector tied to agriculture or buy, sell or use commodities from countries engaged in deforestation.” That may be true if you only consider your company’s direct operations. If your company, however, produces or sells personal care or food products, or uses paper packaging, chances are high that deforestation causing commodities like soy, palm oil, timber, cattle, or derivative products of them are part of your supply chain.

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