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Consumers Are Applauding as Food Companies Connect with Farmers

Image Credit: EDF

More and more, we no longer eat just with our mouths and stomachs — now we also engage our hearts and minds.

The food industry recognizes this: Leading businesses, including Walmart and Smithfield Foods, have stepped up to the sustainability challenge, and consumers now expect other food producers and retailers to do the same. In this age of accessible information, company transparency has never been more important. Equipped with a heightened awareness of the origins of their food, consumers are making a conscious choice to favor brands and companies that sustainably source their ingredients and products.

They’re also realizing that their foods’ impact on climate change isn’t pretty. According to a 2015 study by the Environmental Protection Agency, agriculture accounts for 9 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions — increasing by approximately 8 percent since 1990 — and one-third of emissions globally.

Farmers themselves are most vulnerable to the effects of extreme and unpredictable weather — their livelihoods depend on the climate. Fortunately, climate-smart agriculture (CSA) practices can help farmers grow more with less and enable agriculture to be part of the climate solution, while also increasing farmers’ resiliency (to learn how the CSA approach can mitigate supply chain risks, tune into our August 16th webinar).

Companies looking to answer the call for transparency demanded by consumers face a key challenge: They often don’t know where their ingredients are actually coming from. Farmers often seem like a distant, intangible group to big corporations, but finding a solution requires starting at the root of the problem — pun intended.

Just as a hamburger patty cannot reach the consumer by itself, reducing agriculture’s environmental impact must also be a collaborative effort across the supply chain. Farmers simply can’t do this alone. So, how do companies find a direct connection to the farmers that source their ingredients? That’s where EDF and other similar organizations come in.

Many NGOs have built relationships with an extensive and diverse network of collaborators to drive more sustainable practices across the agricultural landscape:

  • Tyson Foods, one of the world’s largest animal agriculture companies, has partnered with the World Resources Institute to develop GHG-reduction and water-conservation targets throughout its entire supply chain.
  • In collaboration with EDF, Land O’Lakes’ SUSTAIN delivers conservation tools and services to growers across the country that will help them to maintain soil health, improve nutrient-use efficiency and minimize their environmental impact.
  • With the help of TechnoServe, Kellogg Company aims to train thousands of smallholder and female farmers in CSA practices in order to improve their livelihoods and build a greater resilience to climate change.

The progress made by these food giants isn’t an easy or simple task, but it ultimately proves that sustainable agricultural practices can be a win for everyone’s bottom line — and the environment.

Not sure how to take the first step? I’ll offer up a few, shameless plugs:

  1. EDF’s Supply Chain Solutions Center is a great starting point for discovering the resources that can help companies get started in making a commitment to sustainability.
  2. Later this month, we will be kicking off a series of collaborative conservation events across the Corn Belt, as a celebration of these partnerships and to discuss the importance of the private sector’s support for sustainable agriculture.

So, be it with EDF or some other NGO — partner up, food companies! Your customers will reward you as you travel further down the road to a more transparent and efficient supply chain.

Jenny Ahlen directs Environmental Defense Fund’s on-site partnership with Walmart in Bentonville, AR, advancing sustainable business practices throughout its operations and supply chain. Jenny’s primary areas of responsibility include the sustainability of food and agricultural supply chains, as well as… [Read more about Jenny Ahlen]

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