MAKING IT HAPPEN:
The Cool Farm Institute has selected Best Foot Forward and CLM as software partners to build the Cool Farm Tool into a free online carbon calculator for farmers and suppliers. The Cool Farm Tool (CFT) is an industry-supported calculator designed to help growers measure and understand the carbon footprint of their produce and livestock. The current spreadsheet Cool Farm Tool 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.
In May of this year Unilever, PepsiCo, Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Yara, Heineken and Fertilizers Europe joined forces to fund development and encourage use of a free carbon calculator for growers. These groups—that make up the Cool Farm Institute—recently announced competitive bidding for the development of the online carbon calculator. Eleven software firms responded to the invitation, and Best Foot Forward in partnership with the Centre for Agriculture and Environment (CLM) won the competition to put the CoolFarm Tool on the web.“We couldn’t have asked for better,” said Cool Farm Institute spokesperson Christof Walter. “The winning team stood out, but the process was extremely competitive. The proposals we got were from global leaders in life cycle analysis, carbon footprinting agriculture, greenhouse gas modeling and software development.”
Collaboration lies at the core of the Cool Farm Institute; with large companies working together to develop a common approach that will help their suppliers cut their carbon impact. It will standardize the requests made to farmers as each company takes steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their products, and help share best practices across the industry.
The Cool Farm Tool has already been widely used and tested by farmers who have found it both intuitive and informative. The Tool was created by the University of Aberdeen in partnership with Unilever and the Sustainable Food Lab. The Cool Farm Tool has the backing and support of leading academics and NGOs working on sustainability in agriculture.
Measuring Performance in Smallholder Chains:
Food Lab staff are proud to have helped with design and facilitation of a year-long process to develop this initiative, which will now be led by a steering committee representing a wide range of key players in the system.
"We are all embarking on journey we have not seen before. We have come together to change the oceans. I came because I care personally, but I will go home to Nissui to say we are in an initiative we want to follow and be committed to."
If you go into a Costco store anywhere in the U.S, the organic eggs you’ll find on the shelf will have a climate story to tell. For the past two years the organic egg producers supplying Costco stores have been using the Cool Farm Tool to gain insight into the carbon emissions of their operations. With support from the Sustainable Food Lab, Costco has engaged its entire supply base in a program designed to spur reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of organic eggs.
A distinguishing feature of this program is its participatory and interactive nature. In many carbon accounting exercises, the accounting is a “black box”, with only the result—a “carbon footprint”—returned to the operation. Other similar exercises calculate the carbon for each supplier in isolation. This program, on the other hand, has learning and collaboration at its core.
In this program, the Costco organic egg suppliers receive the tools and training to do self-assessments and run “what-if” scenarios. Using the Cool Farm Tool, the farmers determine their overall emissions receive a breakdown of emissions by source so they can see what contributes the most. From here the farmers can start to map out emissions reduction pathways and test reduction potentials.
Costco and the Sustainable Food Lab supplement these individual farm assessments with annual summits, bringing the suppliers together to review and discuss their experiences, ideas and results. From crop dirt to retail store, the farmers can compare their performance to others in each emissions category and in aggregate.
The growers are quick to take advantage of these opportunities to ask questions, troubleshoot problems and, share ideas. One farmer introduced an idea to create a better racking system for the delivery trucks in order to increase the transport efficiency. Another farmer said, “We changed our feed ration to more of a wheat-based diet and found that this had a real impact on lowering our overall emissions. We’re wondering if other farms found this.”
There are no external targets imposed but the structure of the annual assessments coupled with annual meetings seems to give the farmers the motivation they need to strive for continuous improvement on one of the most urgent issues of our time—climate change.
A participating farmer said, "This is helping us improve. I really appreciate value of having a baseline so we can see our strengths and weaknesses and feel challenged to improve."
Food companies today have a difficult challenge of engaging their supply chains effectively on issues of sustainability beyond existing standards and certifications. The Cool Farm Tool provides buyers with a concrete way to engage suppliers. The outreach buyers do using the Cool Farm Tool can also provide the foundation for building on additional sustainability issues and structuring a framework for continuous improvement.
The Cool Farm Tool (CFT) in its present form is an Excel-based greenhouse gas calculator. The CFT is free for growers to help them measure the carbon footprint of crop and livestock products (see www.coolfarmtool.org for more information). Unlike many other agricultural greenhouse gas calculators, the CFT includes calculations of soil carbon sequestration, an important mechanism for both mitigation and adaptation benefits.
After piloting work with the Cool Farm Tool around the world over two years, a group of Founding Partners launched the Cool Farm Institute in May of this year. One of the Institute’s first priorities is to translate the Cool Farm Tool into a web application.
Many users look to the Tool for carbon footprinting or as a metric for agricultural GHG’s from suppliers. The Tool can be used for these purposes but the strength of the Cool Farm Tool lies in its capacity to engage suppliers. With the Tool in hand buyers can provide suppliers with a technical watering hole around which to gather for discussions on impacts and options. It also provides the entre for educational workshops on a range of sustainability issues. The Tool requires input data but for suppliers with “audit fatigue” the ability to receive immediate results and run test cases is a refreshing change.
For Costco, the organic egg supply chain project is an experiment. Sheri Flies is Costco’s assistant general merchandise manager said, “For us, this is just a first step. We’re testing this out on our organic egg program but depending on how it goes, we’re interested in rolling this out on many more of our products and regions.”
Early results are encouraging. Although the farmers expressed concern about matching these results next year, a year one to year two comparison showed an impressive absolute reduction of 7.2 percent.
One farm was able to show a 25 percent reduction in feed emissions due to an increase in the wheat portion of the feed ration. Another farmer showed a transportation emission reduction of 30 percent (and overall reduction of 15 percent) as a result of sourcing a higher percentage of his feed from a more local source.
The results show that feed emissions (the embedded emissions from feed production) are the largest singe source of emissions for most farms and for the supply chain in aggregate. Transportation of the feed, from field to mill and from mill to farm is the second largest contributor.
In the course of the project Costco organic egg suppliers have also received educational content on climate change and been learning together about biochar and the importance of the production practices on the farms where they source their feed.
From increasing local organic production to sharing information about the fiber threshold of increased alfalfa and wheat in the feed ration, this conscientious group of organic egg suppliers is on a path to increased sustainability and glad to have a tool and a program by which to measure and motivate continuous improvement.
The farmers used the opportunity to discuss the finer points of production: the problem of overloading the hens with wheat fiber, the benefit of wheat meal over pellets, the trade-offs between wheat and an increase in dry matter intake the possibilities of introducing a better stacking system on the trucks to accommodate the Costco packaging, the decreasing supply of organic feed due to higher conventional grain prices. There were some of the barriers and opportunities that surfaced.
In his 2009 World Food Prize speech, American business magnate and philanthropist Bill Gates said that, “Helping the poorest smallholder farmers grow more crops and get them to market is the world’s single most powerful lever for reducing hunger and poverty.” This idea reinforces two ideas long-held by the Sustainable Food Lab: 1) The idea that, because poverty remains overwhelmingly rural, investments in agricultural growth have strong poverty reduction effects, and 2) that small farmers play a key role in this agricultural growth. Investment in small farmers is fundamental to increased growth and improved food security.
Find out more about the Food Lab’s work connecting smallholders to inclusive modern markets here.Download the FAO’s The State of Food Insecurity in the World here.
A new report from the Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, entitled Methods for quantification of emissions at the landscape level for developing countries in smallholder contexts, gives an overview of approaches that have been taken to date for landscape-scale GHG quantification, covering both measurement and modelling and the reliance of one upon the other.
Agriculture is a source of livelihoods for an estimated 2.5 billion people globally. It provides jobs for 1.3 billion smallholders and landless workers. Thus, it has enormous potential to reduce rural poverty. Yet agribusinesses are usually built around a small number of large-scale suppliers ignoring that 85% of the world’s farms are managed by small-scale producers.
The LINK methodology is based on: a) direct experiences of research projects in several countries in Latin America and Africa; b) more than twenty business model case studies which have proved to work for small-scale producers; and, c) the growing literature around business models as a design/development tool to augment the effectiveness of business processes to fight poverty.