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Shifting Our Approach: Four Priorities for Building a More Sustainable Food System

April 26, 2016

Chicago Council's Global Food Security Symposium
Joe Stone, Cargill Corporate Senior Vice President

Thank you, Dan. I’m pleased to be here today as we work together to build a sustainable, food-secure future. We always leave this Symposium energized and inspired.

At Cargill, our goal is to be the global leader in nourishing people. We are focused on the grand challenges of our generation – food security, sustainability and nutrition. Partnership is critical to addressing these challenges and achieving Cargill’s business goals.

Cargill has a proud 150-year history of partnering with farmers who, for generations, have been stewards of the land and provided safe, affordable and nutritious food. Yet, in the process, agriculture has been responsible for cutting down trees, impacting waterways and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

Rather than continuing to debate the impacts, it’s time to shift our approach.

Together, we need to focus on four priorities to build a more sustainable food system – land, water, climate and supporting farmers.

By taking courageous action we can protect the planet and nourish nine billion people by 2050.

First, let’s talk about land. We need to eliminate deforestation

As we look at the landscape of global agriculture, we know that forests are one of the key ways we can limit greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change. To protect the future of farming, we’ve got to end deforestation.

In 2014, Cargill signed the U.N. New York Declaration on Forests, pledging to eliminate deforestation from our supply chain. Last year, we launched our company-wide forest policy and action plan to mitigate the impacts of agriculture and protect forests.  But actions speak louder than words – we’ve been a part of a bold collective effort.

Together with industry and environmental leaders that includes Greenpeace, The Nature Conservancy and others, Cargill has helped reduce deforestation across Brazil by 80 percent over the past 10 years.

But we need your help. Partner with us to end deforestation.

Next, let’s talk about water. We should deploy big data to better manage water scarcity.

The International Food Policy Research Institute estimates that, by 2050, more than half the global population…half of the 9 billion people projected to live on the planet … might not have enough water. And nearly half of the world’s grain production could be at risk if we don’t make dramatic changes now.

At Cargill, we’ve partnered with the World Resources Institute to invest in this global heat map that tracks water scarcity and agricultural risk.

This is a snapshot of the atlas. It creates customizable images that help Cargill make strategic decisions about how water stress will impact our business. For example, recently, we’ve seen grazing land shift in North America because of water scarcity. Having a few years to project the impact of those shortages is critical intelligence for Cargill’s business.

Just imagine the possibilities! As a sector we could better understand how the future of water will impact food production. And farmers would have a picture of the realities today and continue to plan how they will manage water tomorrow.

Big data is the way forward. That’s no secret, but in agriculture, we can be creative to use its potential to conserve water and build a more sustainable food system.

Climate is also key in building a more sustainable food system. We need to advance carbon solutions.

When it comes to addressing climate risk, government, business and NGOs need to work together to come up with practical solutions.

Recently, Cargill, Mars, the World Wildlife Fund and others collaborated to produce Food Chain Reaction – a two-day crisis simulation where 65 experts from around the world gathered to test how the public and private sectors would respond to the impacts of climate change on the world’s food supply.

One important recommendation of the Food Chain Reaction report was that we need to work together to curb greenhouse gas emissions and develop cross-border carbon solutions.

What would the impact of a carbon tax or a cap and trade system be on agriculture? At Cargill, we are committed to finding out. We need to partner to develop sustainable climate solutions.

Finally, let’s talk about strengthening farmer livelihoods. We need to support the resilience of farmers.

Farmers are on the frontlines of food security and sustainability. They are resourceful, resilient entrepreneurs.

We as a company, industry and sector have a responsibility to partner with them to make this shift to a more sustainable approach. This is about continuing to increase productivity while protecting the planet.

In low-income countries, by using proven growing techniques, smallholder yields can be increased three to five times – significantly improving nutrition, incomes while conserving water and protecting the land.

In high-income countries, Cargill is working to advance the next generation of precision agriculture. This is Rex Peterson. He is a farmer in Nebraska who started working with Cargill in 1999 to study the soil quality of his fields. Today, he applies inputs in an informed, calibrated way and has increased yields by 36 percent while using less water and fertilizer than his neighbors.

Farmers must remain at the center of these efforts. By supporting their leadership and innovative solutions, we can continue to do more with less and make the shift to build a more sustainable food system.


So can we do this? What’s holding us back? Together we have a powerful opportunity. We can work together to shift our approach. Let’s focus on nourishing people today but also protecting the planet so that we can provide for future generations.

At Cargill, we are eager to build the trust and partnership that is need to build a more sustainable, food-secure future.

Because without bold and coordinated action, we risk being judged by history for debating the details and taking too long to act.

Thank you.