From cocoa to coffee cup: Agribusinesses take a landscape approach to sustainable sourcing

Agribusinesses are increasingly aware that “sustainability megaforces” —such as water scarcity, climate change, ecosystem degradation and population growth, among others—present operational risks and can affect the bottom line.  When sourcing area quality and sustainability are priorities, focus beyond the level of individual production units is required to address these risks. 

A new report, Reducing Risk: Landscape Approaches to Sustainable Sourcing, released by the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative shows that companies are finding solutions to these risks by reaching beyond farm-scales through landscape approaches.  In particular, water, climate, and community risks require company interventions beyond the farm-scale.

Landscape approaches provide a framework to work deliberately in an integrated manner beyond the farm-scale to support food production, ecosystem conservation, and rural livelihoods across entire landscapes.  These approaches require more than  “sum of the parts” thinking—thus large-scale interventions at the producer scale do not necessarily deliver the value that a landscape approach provides.

This global analysis identified 27 landscape approaches with strong business partnership, and explores the modes and rationales for business engagement.  In-depth case studies include SABMiller’s water risk mitigation in Bogotá, Colombia and George, South Africa; Olam’s cocoa and forest initiative in Western Ghana; and Starbucks’ landscape approach for coffee in Mexico, Indonesia and Brazil.

A significant number of landscape approaches reviewed involve tree-crops, such as cocoa and coffee.  Only a few strong examples exist with fast expanding commodities, such as soy, corn and sugarcane.  Both the Starbucks and Olam case studies demonstrate the climate adaptation and mitigation benefits of agroforestry ecosystems. 

“Starbucks is the first company to integrate climate resilience into the coffee sector. They’re addressing livelihood needs through higher prices paid for beans and supplemental income from carbon payments, and giving farmers incentives to not expand coffee growing areas into surrounding forests,” says Gabrielle Kissinger, principal of Lexeme Consulting and lead author of the report.

Olam’s approach links to REDD+ policies that dissuade expansion into forests, increase carbon stocks and promote agroforestry. Both company’s climate change strategies are the result of strategic partnerships with nonprofit organizations.

 One of the 27 approaches included in the global review is the Vision for Change project in Côte d'Ivoire, in which the World Agroforestry Centre and Mars Inc. are working together to directly addresses operational risks and cocoa resource security, supporting growers in key regions to ensure long-term cocoa supplies.

Other innovations include landscape approaches to increase yields in oil palm crops, such as intercropping palm oil with native species such as acai and rose in Brazil (which may increase oil production by as much as 40%) and Guayakí’s sustainable tea and yerba mate production in the Atlantic rainforests of Brazil and Argentina. Guayakí seeks to improve livelihoods of indigenous people, increase incomes, promote agroforestry, and increase productivity by as much as 20% through better management practices. 

While addressing risks is crucial, companies are also finding opportunities to make smarter investments and hedge multiple risks through landscape approaches in key sourcing areas.

“In order to go a step further in promoting resilience in key sourcing regions, those companies with shared interests may need to work together to address risks in both the short- and long-term,” says Kissinger.

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See recent article in Green Biz: Starbucks, SABMiller take holistic approach to sustainability
All research findings and case studies found here:
Reducing Risk: Landscape Approaches to Sustainable Sourcing
Related reading:
Project-Level Insights for Landscape Level PES