Shifting our approach: Four priorities for a more sustainable food system

By Joe Stone, Cargill Corporate Senior Vice President April 27, 2016

inpage-joe-stoneJoe Stone, Cargill Corporate Senior Vice PresidentOur generation faces grand challenges—we have a unique opportunity to address the intersections of food security, sustainability, and nutrition. In order to meet short-term needs and long-term priorities, we need to build strong partnerships across sectors and borders that advance new solutions.

For generations, farmers have been stewards of the land and have provided us with 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.

It’s time to shift our approach.

At Cargill, we are focusing on four priorities to build a more sustainable food system—land, water, climate, and supporting farmers.

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

Land: 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 action speaks 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 to work together and partner to end deforestation.

Water: Deploy big data to better manage water scarcity

The International Food Policy Research Institute estimates that, by 2050, more than half the global population 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 leverage the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, a global heat map that tracks water scarcity and agricultural risk.

Imagine the possibilities. As a sector, by deploying big data 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.

Climate: 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 are eager to partner to develop sustainable climate solutions.

Farmer Livelihoods: 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 and incomes while conserving water and protecting the land.

In high-income countries, Cargill is working to advance the next generation of precision agriculture. Since 1999, we have worked with a Nebraska farmer 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.

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 needed 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.

This article originally appeared on The Chicago Council’s Global Food for Thought blog.