It is expected that, by 2050, the global population will reach 9.6 billion people, and to feed that amount of people, food production must increase by at least 70 percent in the coming years.
The multiple effects of an outdated food system that accounts for 70% of the water usage make it clear that the way we produce and consume food has to change.
The good news is that governments worldwide and leading brands in the food industry are adopting sustainable agricultural practices such as resource management, economic and social inclusion of farmers, and responsible sourcing, in line with the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Through this, they aim to transform this essential industry into a sustainable, inclusive, and safe one.
Read on to find out more about the benefits of sustainable agriculture, which brands are already implementing, and how new high-technology approaches can help brands meet the UN’s SDGs.
Why is sustainable agriculture necessary?
To increase food production in the shortest possible time, modern agriculture has resorted to processes that undermine the natural cycle and diversity of crops with unsustainable irrigation systems, excessive use of inorganic pesticides and fertilizers, and genetic manipulation of crops.
One of the main consequences is soil degradation. According to a report by the FAO-led Global Soil Partnership20, “75 billion tonnes of soil are eroded from arable land around the world each year, equivalent to an estimated financial loss of US$400 billion per year.”
In addition to the environmental consequences, modern agriculture has adverse socio-economic effects that negatively impact farmers’ livelihoods and consumer health.
Therefore, sustainable agriculture and food safety are at the top of the global agenda and the 17 UN’s Sustainable Development Goals’ cross-cutting theme, which aims to completely transform the global food industry.
In what ways can sustainable agriculture be achieved?
Agriculture is sustainable when it articulates one or more of the UN’s pillars for sustainable development in the environmental, social, and economic spheres.
Here we present some examples of sustainable agricultural practices and the brands that are working towards sustainable agriculture.
The new approach to water management at Cargill – one of the world’s largest agricultural companies – is based on a local perspective where the factory is the one that fits the land – its characteristics and challenges – and not the land to the factory. With the commitment to reduce 5,500 tonnes of water pollutants and using smart weather sensors, it expects to restore 600 billion liters of water to priority watersheds by 2030.
Economic and social inclusion of farmers
Unilever’s Prabhat initiative in India has set an example for companies that aim to follow a restorative approach through better farmer education. By building dams to recharge groundwater levels and store monsoon rains, rehabilitating ponds, and educating farmers on sustainability techniques, “Unilever estimates that the work in Prabhat has conserved more than 49 billion liters of water and resulted in 2,000 tonnes of additional agricultural yields benefiting 15,000 farmers.”
Under its Responsible Sourcing Standard, Nestlé ensures that suppliers, their employees, agents, and subcontractors respect and adhere to the highest sustainability practices at all times when doing business.
One of its most recent approaches establishes sourcing from suppliers that actively conserve and restore forests while promoting sustainable livelihoods and respecting human rights. Moreover, the Swiss multinational has been commended for its transparency on animal welfare in its supply chain.
How does food traceability work as a pivot for companies to ensure sustainable agriculture?
It all comes down to efficiency- a company’s ability to track and recall any food product in case of a health risk or enhance their processes most sustainably and smartly- and transparency- a brand’s ability to prove all its claims can be verifiable. But how to do it? The answer is blockchain, which is among the extending technologies that continue disrupting across all industries.
Its first significant use in cryptocurrency is now the go-to business-ready solution for any enterprise that aims to group and secure their processes data in a single source. And to make the smartest decisions out of real-time inputs.
For the food industry, in particular, it is becoming essential as a distributed ledger to manage supply chains to ensure transparency, traceability, and easily verifiable data.
What are the benefits of sustainable agriculture for brands?
In addition to enabling them to reduce their considerable environmental footprint and make their processes more efficient and resilient, achieving food sustainability is the only thing that will give companies a place at the table. According to a 2018 Nielsen Product Insider report:
“The highest sales growth in retail comes from products derived from sustainable farming, at 14%, those with social responsibility claims, at 8%, and those from sustainable resource management, at 6%.
The myriad of environmental problems and external pressure from governments, investors, and consumers urge brands to transform sustainability in the food industry significantly.
Food companies must continue to invest heavily in technological solutions, such as food traceability, to ensure that their commitments to global sustainability programs are effective and to back up their claims in the eyes of informed and conscious consumers who won’t hesitate to ban the brands who won’t follow the sustainability path.