September 2012 Newsletter

What's Next?mist_5316_copy_copy

One early morning in August in the Canadian wilderness I crawled out of our little tent and walked to the water’s edge. Off into the distance a succession of rocky points punctuated the mist from left and right, frequently with clumps of pine trees reaching over the water at odd angles. Although I could only guess at what lay around each bend, we discovered it in reality later as we paddled off toward the next lake.

One of the functions of the Sustainable Food Lab is to discover and explore issues that will become more and more important in the future.  We can guess at what’s around the next bend, and it helps to paddle together in groups that are very diverse, and very experienced.

Since its founding by about thirty people at a meeting in the Netherlands eight and a half years ago, the Sustainable Food Lab has evolved along with the food industry. SFL’s clusters of projects focus on measuring and improving social and environmental impacts of agricultural sourcing. A relatively new initiative focuses on restoring fisheries.

SFL operates as a learning hub, including managing the Cool Farm Institute, coordinating projects to develop practical impact assessment tools for global supply chains, facilitating monthly co-coaching calls for people leading sustainability in their separate organizations, and hosting a “values based sourcing” peer learning group for people from about 8 different companies. SFL staff also provides strategic planning in organizations, designs supply chain summits, and coaches individual change leaders.

The Sustainable Food Lab’s “Intel inside” derives from a close partnership with Peter Senge, Otto Scharmer and colleagues at the Academy for Systemic Change and the Presencing Institute. These circles of people around MIT have created word-class social technologies—systems thinking and organizational learning—that enable SFL to provide leadership and strategic support.  Peter will be back at the SFL 2013 Summit to help lead a leadership thread.

As we head into these next several months toward the SFL Summit in April 2013, we are focused on the critical path needs for as many food companies as possible to achieve more sustainable sourcing. Commodity production will need to be on a continuous improvement path with verifiable results. Standards and metrics need increased alignment. Sustainable seafood availability ultimately requires not only certification of well-managed fisheries but also sustainable management of fisheries everywhere.

The next SFL Leadership Summit in April 2013 is one opportunity to bring together the best thinking in our larger community so that we can see the critical pathways into the future. See you there.

Hal Hamilton
Sustainable Food Lab



Sustainable Food Lab Annual Leadership Summit 2013

Learning Journeys: April 8-9, 2013

Meeting: April 9-11, 2013

Chesapeake Bay, Annapolis Maryland

The next Sustainable Food Lab Annual Summit will be the week of April 8th 2013, with learning journeys around the Chesapeake Bay and the Summit in Annapolis, Maryland.

The overall focus continues the Food Lab theme of operationalizing sustainability in supply chains while the Chesapeake Bay area gives us the opportunity to include fishery visits, discuss and compare strategies around healthy fisheries and sustainable agriculture as well as to learn from decades of regional work to improve water quality.   Visits will include commodity agriculture, specialty crop agriculture, large scale livestock, and fisheries.

Over the next few months we invite input on focused themes for the meeting. The summit will include space for practical planning of on-going climate, development, fishery, and metrics threads of work in the Food Lab. In addition to issue and project-specific content, we will build on previous work with Peter Senge on leadership and organizational change capacities needed for each of us to do our jobs well.

We hope you will join for this exciting meeting where we will continue to expand our understanding of sustainable food system strategies and build our capacity to work together for change.

Mission Driven Companies Explore Sustainable Sugar  Paraguary_sugar_farmers

Several Food Lab member companies have joined forces in order to gain a better understanding of the realities faced by small-scale sugar cane farmers. The effort—led by Food Lab staff—is collecting farm level data from certified fair trade, organic smallholder farmers in Paraguay.

This project is designed to accomplish two goals:

1) provide greater insight on the livelihood and challenges of cane farmers; and

2) test the concept of a lightweight, cost effective set of core metrics for smallholders.

An initial baseline survey of 45 farmers in 3 organic, fair trade certified cooperatives was completed in April 2012 by SFL and local experts in collaboration with Fairtrade International’s Paraguay staff. Initial findings showed fairly low food insecurity. The farmers’ average income was over $10/day, yet only 50% of farmers were earning over the national poverty line of $4900/year.  The average area planted in cane was 5 hectares within a wide range of farm sizes (from 2 to 63 hectares). Average yields were only 70% of potential yields, despite very high levels of training and best practice adoption.

In a series of focus groups, farmer organization leaders emphasized that better access to training on farming best practices, improved seed and affordable, high-quality, organic inputs were key to improving productivity and livelihood for their members.

Interviews with the processing mill and exporting company revealed that access to efficient transport to move the cane from the remote smallholder farms to the mill was a significant barrier to sustainability in the system.

Additional surveys will be completed in early 2013 with generous support from the Ford Foundation. These surveys will reach a larger number of farmers and include interviews with hired cane workers to understand the livelihood profile of this group—as workers are often the most vulnerable population in an agricultural system.

Companies are learning from this project via the Food Lab's Values Based Sourcing peer learning group which includes Annie's Homegrown, Ben & Jerry's, Clif Bar & Co, Theo Chocolate, Stonyfield Farm, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Sodexo and Unilever. This effort is part of a larger body of work to research and support the development of core performance metrics that can be embedded into supply chains to track livelihood performance of smallholders over time. Results will be shared with other companies and organizations conducting this work at an event in December as well as at the Sustainable Food Lab Annual Leadership Summit, April 2013.



Unilever / Cargill Sustainability Summit

The Sustainable Food Lab facilitated learning journeys and a workshop for Unilever and Cargill to explore how they could deepen their business partnership around sustainable sourcing a key element in Unilever’s Partner to Win program.  The central challenges were to see where the two companies’ approaches to sustainability overlap, build relationships between key staff in the two organizations, and identify clear areas where they could develop and implement sustainable sourcing programs together.  This US based workshop brought 75 people from the two organizations together with a few invited external guests.  The most successful elements of the workshop were learning journeys to explore US farming issues and build relationships, the presence of senior management and marketing people from Unilever brands to give the strategy urgency, and a committed core group from Unilever and Cargill to promote and carry UCsummit_5884_copyforward action in the identified areas. Out of this engagement were formed eight key commodity teams with people from each organization and a steering group they are each to report to.

One many comments from the post-Summit survey is representative of the general field of responses:  "I think the Learning Journeys were instrumental in helping to provide people actual experiences where they could "feel" the place that they were visiting.  The journeys also provided a venue for relationships to form and develop.  They created connections that then translated into a comfortable environment in the following days.  Many speakers commented that the room felt like a "team"  - I don't think the room would have felt like that had we not done the Learning Journeys."

Cool Farm Institute Aiming to Take Agricultural Carbon Engagement to Scale

Intro from Carmel Mcquaid of Marks & Spencer:Carmel_1261rev

The Cool Farm Institute is very important for us at Marks & Spencer not just because of our investment in it as a founding partner but also for how it links with other collaborative initiatives on product sustainability. The focus on agricultural carbon is the Institute's unique niche among the network of other sustainability initiatives. We know from work on hotspotting that the biggest impact areas for emissions for most food/fibre products, is on the farm. However, there are still challenges around having a consistent and farmer friendly means of measuring and identifying opportunities for reducing emissions in agriculture. Growers globally need the tools to make more informed on-farm decisions that will help them reduce their environmental impact. And the industry needs a consistent methodology for measurement. Following an initial two-year pilot, we believe the Cool Farm Tool provides the foundation for meeting these needs. A web platform for the Cool Farm Tool will enable us and our peers to take the tool to scale globally with all our suppliers. We're proud to be working within the team of Founding Partners to realize this potential.

The Cool Farm Institute launched in May, 2012 with Unilever, PepsiCo, Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Yara Heineken and Fertlizers Europe as the initial founding partners – a partnership opportunity open to all until December 2012. The web-based Cool Farm Tool software is currently out to bid with a deadline for submissions of September 20th, 2012.  The expected timeline for an initial software release is by summer 2013.

Prior to the 2012 establishment of the Cool Farm Institute, the “Cool Farm Tool” (CFT) has been piloted in over 25 crops and 28 countries around the world (with more added regularly). Some examples of piloted crops include potatoes in the UK, canola and navy beans in Canada, barley in France, eggs, lettuce, tomatoes and milk in the U.S, coffee in seven countries, cotton in India, and sugar in Paraguay. In its current form The Cool Farm Tool is an excel calculator designed for growers to measure and understand the carbon footprint of their produce and livestock. The CFT is free for growers to download and use, with the Institute’s goal to help as many farmers as possible to take actions to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from their activities. The calculator enables farmers to input basic information - mostly off the top of their heads and then explore "what-if" scenarios for reducing GHG emissions and/or sequestering carbon in the soil or in above ground biomass.  A key feature is that it is useful for farmers but also for companies looking to engage their supply chains in understanding and mitigating GHGs.

The Institute will provide the supporting infrastructure to dramatically scale up this up with web-based software.

Uptake for the tool has been strong and was strengthened recently by a decision reached in the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crop’s working group for the GHG metric. In May of this year, after three years of careful deliberation the working group decided to recommend the Cool Farm Tool as the GHG metric of “approximate Co2 eq” to the Coordinating Council.

Although in the first phase the Institute will focus on distributing and supporting the use of Cool Farm Tool, it will also serve as a repository for data and case studies. The goal is to contribute intelligence to the industry on crop-region specific GHG management and effective supply chain engagement.

Collaboration lies at the core of this initiative, with large companies working together to develop a common approach that will help their suppliers cut their carbon impact. By helping growers directly, the CFT also helps multinational companies to manage the emissions from their supply chains. Working with suppliers, companies can pool expertise and tackle their impact. 

While the core tool is the same, companies have been using the Cool Farm Tool differently: Pepsico potato growers in the UK paste the results of the Cool Farm Tool into their contracts every year; Costco organic egg suppliers have just completed the second year of their assessments and supplement this exercise with an annual gathering to share practices ideas and results; Unilever is using a step-wise approach, rolling the Cool Farm Tool out to suppliers in the first phase and further out to farmers in the second phase.

None of this supply chain engagement would be effective if the tool weren’t also useful to farmers. Recently a Wisconsin farmer of 8000 acres wrote in for help evaluating her results and to get recommendations for GHG reduction pathways. Her email concludes, “Thank you for developing such a highly functional and helpful tool for farmer’s around the world.”


Can we bring 50% of the world's wild fish under sustainable mangement in 10 years?

The Sustainable Food Lab is supporting the launch of a new global initiative in partnership with the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Oceans to enable at least half of the world’s overfished stocks to be rebuilt in 10 years and increase the annual net benefits of capture fisheries by at least $20 billion.

Sustainable seafood programs have grown in retail and food service. The most common approach is MSC and aquaculture certification. For seafood that is unable to be certified, companies are investing in the improvement of uncertified fisheries, and a few different systems provide advice about “sustainable” and “unsustainable” options.

There are also examples all over the world of successful fisheries that have used policy, markets and community leadership to drive progress. Systematic reforms in Namibia, Chile, the U.S. and New Zealand show how effective management can be implemented.

However, all these efforts still fall short of the need. According to the World Bank at least $50 billion in revenues is lost every year due to overfishing. About a billion people depend upon fish for their primary source of protein, and many of these people are desperately poor. In some parts of the world there’s a race to catch the last fish—by small scale as well as industrial scale fishers.

This fall a consortium of organizations will gather to design an implementation plan, a way of measuring collective progress, and processes for continuous learning, communication and coordination.


New Business Models Can Spell Success For African Farmers

For the last four years the Sustainable Food Lab team has worked with Rainforest Alliance, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), The Center for Tropical Agricultural Research (CIAT), Catholic Relief Services, and various private sector partners to develop approaches and business models that increase benefits for small scale producers when trading with larger scale companies.

NMB_cocoaThe case for strengthening supply chains with development and commercial benefits is becoming increasingly compelling. Agriculture remains the best opportunity for the estimated 1.5 to 2 billion people living in smallholder households worldwide to work and trade their way out of poverty.  Studies show that growth generated by agriculture is up to four times more effective in reducing poverty than growth in other sectors.

At the same time many companies are recognizing a need to develop new, more reliable sources of supply. They are increasingly aware of the many benefits of strengthening sustainable trading relationships. One such benefit is build social legitimacy in emerging markets through local sourcing and thereby appealing to consumers interested in ethical trade.

Formal markets have requirements—including quality, consistency, traceability, food safety, and third-party certification standards (e.g., Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance)—that necessitate more direct communication and coordination along the supply chain. While these requirements raise the barriers of entry for new producers, they also present potential opportunities for diversification, income generation, and professionalization. Poor households can benefit from participation in formal supply chains not just as producers, but also as wage laborers in production or processing, and as providers in the service markets that support value chains.

The New Business Models project worked with approximately 60,000 farmers in four value chains that present different opportunities for sustainable development.  For each of the value chains, the project was focused on (1) building demand for the crop, (2) improving supply chain relationships through the emerging New Business Model framework to improve stability and benefits, and (3) upgrading production and processing practices to increase productivity and meet market requirements.

  • In Ghana, the project identified the steps needed to enable cocoa farmers to produce fine flavour beans that carry a substantial market premium. This was an effort to emulate the experience of farmers in Latin America, who produce fine flavour beans that reap 3-4 times the market value of normal beans.
  • Also in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, the New Business Model project assessed how the Rainforest Alliance managed, in just three years, to certify over 15,000 farmers as producers of environmentally-friendly cocoa.
  • In Kenya, project members acted as “ethical agents” who helped to reshape supply chains at each link to better serve the needs of small-holder flower farmers and enable them to sell directly to major retailers in the United States and Europe. The project team thinks large food companies with strong development targets would benefit from adopting this strategy to employ ethical agents to engage with each node of the supply chain.
  • In Ethiopia, the New Business Models project team linked thousands of bean farmers to canning factories and retailers in the United Kingdom.

Some KEY LESSONS from the project about business model innovation with smallholders:

1.  Certification can reach farmers at scale with measured income benefits (43,000+ farmers were reached) when it is coupled with strong demand and training. There remains ample opportunity to 1) explore ways to increase the effectiveness of practices intended to boost productivity and smallholder benefits, and 2) better measure impact over time.

2.  The dried bean value chain in Ethiopia showed that pulses can be a valuable source of income when they are part of a diverse farm system at scale (15,000 farmers reached directly by the project, an additional 45,000 reached through private sector seed loans as part of the partnership). Yet high levels of disruption in weather and the market system made direct and consistent trading relationships very challenging. The project team concluded that continued investment in seed systems, market information systems to build buyer confidence, and information systems—to track technology adoption and impact at the farm level—are considered worthwhile.

3.  Our work in smallholder flowers from Kenya demonstrated the crop’s potential to add considerable value and market share through direct service to retail. The project clearly underscored the high level of capacity needed to succeed in direct retail sales.  A commercially sophisticated "ethical agent" was key to facilitating these relationships and building supplier business capacity.  Flowers are continuing to sell well Sam’s Club. Additional UK-based retailers are exploring sales potential as well.

4.  The fine flavor cocoa project successfully engaged the industry and the Ghanaian government and introduced new practices around cultivation, grafting, and quality management. The project illustrated the fundamental challenge of development projects with a significant research component.  It took much longer than anticipated to identify cocoa varieties, propagate them, and create a successful market test.  The critical next step is to support the farmers through to a commercial harvest (when traders can take over). We must also focus on scaling this work up to bring the benefits of the new technology and practices to Ghana’s mainstream cocoa sector.

5.  The central concept of developing a consistent set of New Business Model principles proved to be a useful framework for engagement and organization. Supply chain coordination, service provision (technical assistance, credit, inputs, seed), and effective market linkages were clearly critical to the success of the projects.

The work which this project kicked-off continues in Food Lab community.  The primary focus at this point is on measuring impact, testing ways to link small holders to markets and collecting cases, tools and methods.  The new case study reports will be announced over the next few weeks, the first of which can be found in a blog by Abbi Buxton: How Markets Can Bloom for Africa's smalholder farmers.  Other similar resources including a practitioners guide developed by Mark Lundy at CIAT are available at the Linking Worlds website.


Other papers in the series are:

Branding Agricultural Commodities: The development case for adding value through branding

Information and communication technologies for development

Commodity exchanges and smallholders in Africa

Sourcing gender: gender productivity and sustainable sourcing strategies

Under what conditions are value chains effective tools for pro-poor development?

Think Big, Go Small 

SFL Advisory Board

The Sustainable Food Lab honors outgoing Advisory Board Members 2012_outgoingwho have contributed wisdom, enthusiasm and support over the past several years:

Michele Bruni, Oxfam

Arlin Wasserman, Sodexo

Craig Watson, SYSCO 

The Sustainable Food Lab Advisory Board, listed below, welcomes six new members this year:


Jan-Kees Vis, Unilever (co-chair)

Tensie Whelan, Rainforest Alliance (co-chair)

Andrea Asch, Ben & Jerry's (new)

David Bright, Oxfam GB

Deborah Hecker, Sodexo (new)

Gord Kurbis, Pulse Canada

Chris Leung, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (new)

Fredrick Payton, Agrofrontera

Kevin Rabinovitch, MARS, Inc.

Neil Russell, SYSCO (new)

Shauna Sadowski, Annie's, Inc. (new)

Jefferson Shriver, Catholic Relief Services (new)

Bill Vorley, International Institute for Environment and Development 

Upcoming Events

November 5-8, 2012
50 IN 10 Design Meeting, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  By invitation only.

November 7-9, 2012
Leading and Learning for Sustainability, Bedford, MA, USA with Peter Senge, Joe Laur and Darcy Winslow    

December 6-7, 2012

Performance Measurement for Global Supply Chains with Small-Scale Producers, Washington DC.

April 9-11, 2013

SFL Annual Summit 2013 on the Chesapeake Bay, Annapolis, MD, USA