New tools and technology are equipping seafood and agriculture companies to lead the way to sustainability.
As Earth’s human population swells, so does our demand for food, especially for protein. Harvesting and producing that food is putting increasing pressure on our natural resources, and while regulations that governments introduce can safeguard resources locally, they can also redirect threats elsewhere. Policies and regulations are a critical element of improved resource management, but leadership in the business sector is also essential. So too are new tools and technological advancements to help businesses with improved monitoring and supply chain transparency. Together, these different levers can all help ensure that the resources critical to humanity’s long-term survival — and to the corporate bottom line — are abundant long into the future.
Corporate commitments to end overfishing and deforestation are on the rise, building on the momentum of wider private sector leadership, although implementation hinges on the development of better tools and technologies.
This leadership in the business sector comes at a crucial time. Our oceans provide a fifth of humanity’s food, but two-thirds of our fish are fully-exploited or over-exploited. On land, agriculture covers nearly 40 percent of all the world’s ice-free land now; in a business-as-usual scenario, meeting anticipated demand over the next few decades would require converting 10-20 percent of remaining natural habitat to agricultural lands.
Sustainable seafood movement
These facts are not lost on the world’s biggest seafood producers, who committed in the summer of 2017 to strengthen ocean stewardship. “There is no seafood industry in a dead ocean,” they declared, and outlined the steps they will take to lead by example and achieve a healthy ocean. Technological advancements are helping to navigate their way toward more sustainable use of our oceans. To further improve supply chain transparency and implement robust traceability systems for the seafood industry, for example, World Wildlife Fund worked over the course of the year with the Seafood Taskforce to develop open source software through crowdsourcing and to pilot an Android-based track and trace mobile app. With these kinds of tools, businesses are able to mitigate the risks posed by murkier supply chains, and to make more significant commitments.
The future of farming: Sustainable agriculture
In the agriculture sector, more than 470 companies had committed to eliminating deforestation from their supply chains as of November 2017 – this number continues to grow, buoyed by innovation. Foundation-supported web tool Trase can now publicize companies’ soy-sourcing areas by analyzing available data (shipping bills of lading, corporate statements, customs and tax records) and information published by transport companies, warehouses, refiners, producers and traders to expose deforestation risks in those supply chains.
2017 also saw the launch of Global Forest Watch Pro, an online platform that uses satellite technology to provide near real-time information on tree cover loss. With rapid deforestation alerts, powerful analytical tools and detailed data on farms, mills and silos, companies and banks can identify risks quickly and engage with their suppliers and financing clients to address the problem.
In Brazil, a multi-institutional initiative involving universities, NGOs and technology companies — MapBiomas — is now producing annual land cover and land-use maps through fast and inexpensive methods that rely on cloud computing, automatic classifiers and open-source access. In April 2017, their second data collection was released with far greater accuracy and detail, a larger set of land-use classes, and a longer history (2000-2016) than had been available before.
And in September 2017, Bunge and other partners launched AgroIdeal, an online database that helps companies make investment and purchasing decisions to discourage farmers from clearcutting forests for arable land.
In the Fall of 2017, 23 large food companies signed on to the bold “Cerrado Manifesto.” Recognizing that deforestation in Brazil’s unique Cerrado ecosystem threatens native habitat and species and contributes carbon emissions of 250 million metric tons a year, the manifesto was a call to businesses that source agricultural products — soy and beef — and to investors in the sector to eliminate deforestation in their supply chains, end the widespread land-clearing for agriculture, and develop incentives for producers who operate in a way that conserves the natural ecosystem. These pledges in the food sector, while important in their own right, would be difficult to realize without new, more accessible data and platforms to inform corporate decision-making.
Delivering on corporate promises
Corporate commitments to better stewardship of terrestrial and marine resources show that global businesses recognize the bottom-line benefits of sustainability and are willing to lead by example. But they also need the tools to deliver on those promises. Traceability and monitoring technology in the seafood and agricultural sectors — including the innovative and improved tools introduced in 2017 — will help industry fulfill their sustainability pledges and allow banks to map the evolution of risks from environmental degradation. We are humbled by all that our grantees accomplished in 2017, working to secure commitments and, by developing new tools and data, helping supply chain actors and financial institutions to begin implementing them.