I wasn’t surprised to hear this from Beth Keck, Walmart’s Senior Director of Sustainability, who spoke on the role of the private sector in sustainable agriculture at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC late last month. Indeed, I’ve heard Gary Hirshberg, Chairman, President and CEO of Stonyfield Farm and author of Stirring it up: How to Make Money and Save the World, call on sustainable producers to harness the power of big business. Ms. Keck echoed this sentiment: “What we’re concerned with is how our business processes and our business decisions make a difference in the supply chains we interact with.” Unlike Mr. Hirshberg, though, Ms. Keck could not provide a real definition of “sustainability.” Walmart does not have its own definition, but “often cite[s] the original concept of leaving the earth in the same shape that you have found it or better—trying to be neutral or add back.” Read More >
What do Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Coca-Cola, DuPont, Monsanto, Kraft Foods, and Wal-Mart have in common?
Some of the most financially successful companies in the world? Absolutely. Exploiters of workers and the environment? Some say so. The newest solution to global food insecurity and natural resource conservation? Apparently so.
These seven global companies, along with ten others spanning the agricultural value chain (including BASF, Bunge Limited, General Mills, Metro AG, Nestlé, PepsiCo, SABMiller, Syngenta, Unilever, and Yara International) are at the center of a new strategy presented at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland on January 28th. Announced by Rajiv Shah, Director of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the strategy is called “Realizing a New Vision for Agriculture: A roadmap for stakeholders” and aims to increase food production in an environmentally sustainable way while spurring economic growth. Each decade, the initiative aims to: (1) increase agricultural production by 20% to eliminate hunger and undernourishment; (2) reduce greenhouse gas emissions per tonne of production by 20%; and (3) decrease rural poverty by 20%.
Why is a “new vision for agriculture” needed?First and foremost, even in our world of plenty, nearly a billion people remain undernourished, 98% of who live in developing countries.The world’s population continues to grow at a rate of about 200,000 people per day, putting greater pressure on food production systems. At the same time, the intensity of food consumption is growing in emerging markets such as China; as people’s incomes rise, so does their demand for meat and dairy products, foods which are much more land and energy-intensive to produce.Another challenge arises as urban populations grow. We passed the point at which just as many people live in urban areas as do rural areas in 2007. This trend of urbanization will likely continue, requiring additional resources for packaging, shipping, storing, and distributing food to urban populations.
More food is needed, but it must be produced in environmentally sustainable ways if we expect the earth to continue to support us. The 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment revealed the horrifying extent to which humans have degraded the natural environment through our efforts to secure food, water and fuel (most of this damage has occurred over the past 50 years). One of the most alarming repercussions of human activity on the environment is global climate change, which will have dire consequences for health – including food security – in the coming years. Agriculture both contributes to and is threatened by environmental degradation and climate change. Additionally, the current agricultural system is heavily reliant on oil, and considering that oil is believed to have reached global peak production, the food system must undergo a massive transition if it is to function in a world of energy scarcity. Read More >