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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture
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Corporate Sustainable Agriculture

March 2, 2011 |

Any way you slice it, dice it, butter it, the emergence of widespread corporate sustainable agriculture initiatives is a positive development.   Some of the largest corporations in the world from Walmart, Sysco Corporation, and PepsiCo to Kellogg, Nestle, and General Mills are engaged in or launching initiatives to increase usage of sustainable agriculture practices and technologies.

Regardless of whether these corporations are motivated by reputation cost, consumer pressures, or a PR opportunity, they are making real commitments to increase sustainability in the food supply chain. Walmart recently unveiled its global sustainable agriculture goals, which include:

  • Providing training to 1 million farmers and farm workers in sustainable practices that will lead to more efficient use of fertilizer, pesticide and water;
  • Promising to sell $1 billion in food sourced from 1 million small and medium sized farms;
  • Reducing food waste in its emerging market stores by 15%; and
  • Requiring sustainably sourced palm oil for all Walmart private brand products

Walmart, as everyone knows, is huge!  According to the company, sourcing sustainable palm oil for its UK and US stores alone will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5 million metric tons by the end of 2015.

Sysco Corp, Kellogg, Nestle, and General Mills are also implementing initiatives that commit them to sustainably source palm oil for their various products in order to halt the torrid pace of deforestation in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.  As an aside, according to RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), palm oil is among the world’s most used food ingredients.  In fact, nearly half of all packaged food products contain it.  To meet demand and produce the palm oil necessary for these foods, countries from Southeast Asia (Indonesia and Malaysia are the largest producers of palm oil) to Columbia have been cutting down rainforests and subsequently altering local climates, and eliminating huge carbon sinks in order to set up palm plantations.

General Mills, in addition to its commitment to source sustainably produced palm oil, has made a grant of $318,000 to the USDA to promote research into oats.  According to the press release from General Mills, the goal of the research will be to “develop ways to identify specific genes that determine oat traits such as nutritional quality and resistance to drought and pests.”  The resulting genome map will be posted to a public database to equip oat producers worldwide with the tools and information to develop and breed improved varieties.

Increases in corporate sustainable agriculture will force and undoubtedly entice many other producers and farmers to adopt sustainable agriculture practices in order to remain relevant and profitable.  Additionally, the desire for more sustainably produced food from major multinational food retailers and food product producers will likely accelerate the development of a market for sustainable agriculture technologies and innovations.