Brand Panel

The brand panel set out to learn from companies addressing climate change and building resilient supply chains. How have they approached this? Are they able to make sustainability investments commercially relevant for both farmers and the business? What have they found? Two company examples provided fodder for discussion: Juliet Caulkins from Mars Petcare, who spoke about an Australian wheat project serving as a test case for delivering on corporate GHG commitments from agriculture, increasing security of supply and engaging the internal teams necessary for success; and Margaret Henry from PepsiCo, who spoke about using a gap assessment as the starting point to understand how current suppliers perform relative to sustainability issues (using a farmer sustainability assessment survey) and then informs collaborations with other companies sourcing from the same region and building from what farmers consider their next challenge. One takeaway from companies of this size: practices do matter. Resilience and sustainability can look very different when you are a big brand with a vast sourcing area: from reducing GHG on large potato farms to ensuring farmers don’t burn plastic agro-chemical containers in India, and ensuring utilization of protective gear and drip irrigation in Mexico.

For Mars, a few factors have proven surprisingly critical to success: engaging a credible soil scientist who can interpret agricultural GHG results through the lens of soil science and producer management constraints, and providing farmers with interactive access to the Cool Farm Tool so they can learn from their own farm data. “Its magic,” Caulkins said, “How we scale that, I’m not sure yet, but there’s something there.”

For Pepsico, success results from finding local expert resources to provide context (crop and country) -appropriate advice, listening well to those closest to the agricultural production, working with farmer-advisors that are already trusted, and reaching out for collaboration with government, NGO’s and other companies.

In both cases, some takeaways:

  • Don’t go to a place with the answers, go with the questions and the tools to answer them.
  • Move those that are inspired and motivated to help you to convince the others.
  • Start with places where success can be demonstrated because there are willing suppliers, commercial buy-in, and stronger relationships with farmers and other industry partners

As for challenges, Mars discussed the need to understand and anticipate how a project initially motivated and partially funded by the sustainability arm will become part of a commercial manager’s sourcing budget; and the role of the corporation in managing the first few years of the project when risk is higher.

Similarly at PepsiCo, soil health is known to have long-term benefits for GHG, productivity, water and livelihoods but there is a need for proven cases, “Can you give me numbers I can add to my 5-year plan?” Henry asked.

In terms of moving forward, for Mars now in phase three of the project, the next steps involve reaching out across the organization to include R&D and marketing, involving local farmer organizations for leverage and expanding to other crops and regions. The global team sets the targets, but delivering on it means being a co-pilot to the regional team in developing the strategy. For PepsiCo, the challenge continues to be building coalitions whose goals are different but who can all benefit by pooling efforts and resources.  For example, a Pepsi project with a goal to source Bonsucro certified sugar aligns with a World Bank initiative in the same region to increase water security and a development organization’s goal to improve rural livelihoods. To align objectives is to capitalize on potential. “We have a responsibility, but we’re not the only actors. And more than responsibility we are interested in the health of the communities,“ Henry said.

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