30 July 2021

Building sustainability in a food chain

People, Profit, Planet: these are the three parameters at the core of the sustainable development model based on the 3Ps. Crucial in all areas of the productive economy, sustainability plays an even more pervasive and strategic role in agribusiness. It is no coincidence that sustainable development, carbon footprint reduction, and organic farming have dominated the sector debate for years. The model based on the 3Ps allows identifying points of improvement for the agents and the areas involved at the various levels of the food supply chains.

Lately, public attention has focused on important issues such as:

  • environmental protection and responsible use of natural resources;
  • production of food and energy sufficient to meet global demand and ensure food security;
  • the economic development of countries with social problems, hunger, and poverty.

Unfortunately, these topics highlight some of the major problems arising from the failure of countries and organizations to plan and develop a sustainable system.

Sustainable development: points for the debate

This article takes its cue from a broader and more in-depth study (FOOD AND AGRIBUSINESS in 2030 – Wageningen Academic Publishers). Here, we present a list of issues concerning the sustainable development of the industry and the food supply chain. For the progress of debate, we considered it beneficial to dwell on some key points and unresolved issues concerning:

  • production;
  • communication;
  • logistics and infrastructure;
  • human resources;
  • environment and corporate governance.

The goal is to provide discussion points to support the elaboration of strategic development plans, considering global demand and the need to protect resources, the economy, and people.

The three Ps of Sustainability

The concept of the “Three Ps of Sustainability” (People, Profit, and Planet) in production systems and supply chains can help understand and promote sustainability.

People and Sustainability

There are many objectives to achieve to improve people’s living conditions with a view to greater production sustainability:

  • Improve working conditions (in terms of safety, health, water, housing and sanitation);
  • Demanding strict compliance with labor laws;
  • Guarantee adequate wages for all, sharing the first results in the performance programs;
  • Ensure good health and well-being for all stakeholders;
  • Achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment;
  • Eradicating child labor;
  • Provide tools and sources to improve the living conditions of communities;
  • Sharing goals of ethics and integrity (rights, safety, efficiency, support, human resources, infrastructure, eliminating workplace accidents, improving health programs and implementing a program to respect differences);
  • Build a supplier code of conduct regarding people;
  • Help develop skills and improve work;
  • Invest in educational programs;
  • Support the use of local resources for the workforce;
  • Improve partnerships with the public sector towards social projects;
  • Stimulate the inclusion of small landowners;
  • Promote inclusion programs for the disabled.

Profit and Sustainability

Profit, which is a goal of any business, can and must go hand in hand with sustainable development. For this purpose, it is necessary to:

  • Encourage economic development;
  • Aim for social equity;
  • Promote the creation of opportunities (amount of wages and other contributions paid);
  • Provide consumer-friendly products and/or services;
  • Put technology at the service of small owners;
  • Increase the use of technology by companies and suppliers;
  • Measure sales, taxes, and contribution paid to local GDP;
  • Monitor the economic situation before and after the investment (number of companies and others);
  • Pursue efficiency gains;
  • Stimulate the sharing economy.

Planet and Sustainability

Finally, the third P that cannot be missing in the sustainable development model of agribusiness is the P for Planet. Topics to explore in the debate include:

  • How to reconcile efficient production and responsibility towards the environment;
  • Compliance with environmental rules;
  • Protection of biodiversity;
  • Forest protection: reduce deforestation and increase the recovery of degraded areas (total number of trees planted);
  • Improvement of soil quality/reduction of degradation;
  • Use of sustainable energy sources, increasing the shares of renewable energy;
  • Support for the self-production of energy;
  • Waste reduction;
  • Recycling;
  • Coordination of the environmental protection efforts of the company’s suppliers;
  • How to increase the efficiency of water use in direct operations and supply chains while improving the quality of discharged water;
  • Calculation of the water, carbon, and energy footprint (per item);
  • Reduction of vulnerability to climate risk in the supply chain;
  • How to lower the impact of chemicals, etc. improving natural pest control methods;
  • Stimulus to the virtuous dynamics of the circular economy.

Sustainable development: salient issues

Economic issues have raised many discussions on strategic agri-food development. In particular, some salient points need further investigation. Among these:

  • The increase in demand for arable land and the opening of new agricultural frontiers.
  • The untapped potential of smaller, low-productivity chains.
  • How to effectively communicate the efforts made and the objectives achieved in terms of sustainability.

From a social point of view, the issues to debate in strategic agri-food discussions include:

  • Transparency, ethics, and integrity at work;
  • Lack of knowledge of good sustainable living practices by rural producers;
  • Lack of cultural identity of the farmer during technical visits to model farms.

Sustainable development: prospects for the future

Among the solutions that emerged, it is worth mentioning the integration of chains. Sustainability strategies increase productivity in harmony with the environment. For example, feed for dairy cattle, which comes from grain production chains, could benefit from integrations into the forest.

To counter the lack of cultural identification, the presentation of successful case histories adapted to the local situation can be helpful.

Cooperativism also proves to be a powerful tool. Collaborative activities involve commitment, responsibility, and concern for the community to which one belongs. For this reason, the activation of projects in this area could give far-reaching results.

Source: FOOD AND AGRIBUSINESS in 2030 – Wageningen Academic Publishers