Supporting sustainable rice production protects the global commons, increases farmers’ incomes and is good for our business
The delicate ecosystem that allows our planet and its people to thrive is under pressure as never before. The UK Government recently became the first in the world to declare a “climate change emergency”.
Poverty, food insecurity, water stress and other social and environmental issues are worsened by climate change, holding back the potential of people, communities and business, and threatening our global commons, the shared resources such as oceans, forests and wildlife on which we all depend.
There is particular pressure at the intersection of food, agriculture and the environment. The world must address this, especially as we prepare to feed nearly 10 billion people by 2050.
Agricultural systems need to be transformed, with business reassessing its role and stepping up to make a difference. Companies have a responsibility to fix broken agricultural supply chains by making them work better for farmers and for the planet.
Today, farmers are shouldering the burden of adapting to the climate crisis.
Food and agriculture can be powerful solutions in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, investing in soil health and innovating to sequester carbon. This is not something that can be fixed in isolation; rather it will require all of us to work in partnership to drive meaningful change.
Mars launched its Sustainable in a Generation Plan – to grow in ways that are good for people, the planet and our business – to do our part to address these challenges. It is focused on three areas: Healthy Planet, Thriving People and Nourishing Wellbeing. In support, we are investing more than $1bn to move beyond incremental improvements to unlock systemic change.
We have set long-term goals and commitments, using the best available science, to ensure that we are operating within the boundaries of what the planet can endure and with meaningful and measurable social impact. This includes but is not limited to:
- reducing greenhouse gas emissions across our value chain by 27 per cent by 2025 and 67 per cent by 2050 to do our part to keep Earth from warming beyond 2C above pre-industrial levels
- cutting unsustainable water use by half by 2025 with a long-term ambition of eliminating water use in excess of sustainable levels in our value chain.
- holding land use flat
- working to ensure everyone touched by our business is treated with fairness, dignity and respect
- unlocking opportunities for women in our workplaces, marketplaces and extended supply chains
- advancing science and collaboration that will improve food safety and security and, therefore, health around the world
We know there is no simple or quick fix. Impact at scale will take decades to realise fully and progress will not always be easy, but we are committed to our long-term goals.
Our initial focus has been starting a transformation in our raw material supply chains, accelerating what is already working, testing new approaches, and building and investing in a number of critical partnerships.
Take rice, the daily staple for more than 3.5 billion people and the crop that comprises one of our best-loved brands, Uncle Ben’s.
Rice production needs to increase 25 per cent in the next 25 years to meet global demand, yet rice farmers are among the world’s most vulnerable to climate change impact (from rising sea levels, drought and flooding, growing salinity, and increasing temperatures). We are determined to help solve these challenges.
Our first step towards creating a more sustainable rice supply chain was to work in partnership, leveraging the expertise of others to build the right approach. Through collaboration with WWF, UN Environment and the International Rice Research Institute, we were able to launch the first global sustainable rice standard under the banner of the Sustainable Rice Platform.
With our suppliers and rice farmers around the world, we are now working to ensure that the rice we source is produced in line with Sustainable Rice Platform standards – alongside focused intervention programs that make a real difference beyond simple compliance.
In India and Pakistan, we have worked with about 2,500 basmati rice farmers and our suppliers to improve farmer education and income, increase crop yields and reduce water use.
The farmers are learning new techniques to improve water efficiency, to reduce and safely manage their use of fertilisers and pesticides, and to improve the health and safety of farm workers.
This programme has provided valuable lessons, which we have taken to Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia with the help of partners, including the International Finance Corporation, World Bank, GIZ (the German development agency) and the Wildlife Conservation Society.
We are also working with farmers, suppliers and the non-profit Winrock in the United States and Europe to help ensure biodiversity is protected alongside rice production, introducing more advanced farming methods that reduce water and pesticide use.
The programme is producing impressive results. In Pakistan and India, for example, we have seen a 32 per cent increase in income, a 17 per cent rise in yield and a 30 per cent reduction in water use among farmers who have adopted more sustainable growing methods.
Supporting sustainable rice production is not just the right thing to do. It is also good for our business. We have been able to improve the quality of our rice while building a more stable supply.
Our goal is that by 2020 we will source all rice from farmers working towards the Sustainable Rice Platform standard. Today, 87 per cent of our rice comes from farmers following this approach, up from 10 per cent in 2016.
Companies have the power and the opportunity to make positive impact at scale – for today and for the future – but we cannot do it alone. Businesses must collaborate with those with the right expertise to inform our actions and scale our impact.
We need farmers, foundations, NGOs, policymakers and business to work together to help transform the approach to the global food system now, because soon it will be too late. We must act with urgency, investing in innovations, embracing uncommon collaborations and addressing head-on the problems we all face as citizens of the world.
The last thing we want to have in common is no global commons at all.
This piece was originally published for the GEF-Telegraph Partnership.