To feed almost 10 billion people by 2050, while at the same time preserving the natural resources that sustain food production, is possibly the greatest challenge that human civilization has ever faced. When we add in population growth, malnutrition and climate change, the ethical imperative for action is unequivocal.
However, the commercial case for sustainable production and consumption is lagging behind the moral one.
The long-term success of the agribusiness sector relies on the natural resources and ecosystem services that keep the efficient food production circle going. Climate is an important component of this equation. Rising temperatures, changing weather patterns and increasing frequency of extreme weather events associated with climate change will significantly impact crop yields and challenge our capability to feed a growing global population. The repercussions on businesses in terms of profit, reputation and investment will be catastrophic. In this context, forests are the most cost-efficient way to keep the level of atmospheric greenhouse gases in check. Forest conservation is a critical element to safeguard future agricultural production and food security.
Agricultural supply chains are vast and complex. From farm to dining table, many actors work to ensure efficient operations. As a result, forest conservation requires collective and coordinated action, taking into account governance, financing, local communities and consumer behaviour. This complex interplay of issues and actors is clearly evidenced in Brazilian soybean production. While we have witnessed a few successful initiatives towards sustainable soy, how can we progress from here to an industry-wide transformation?
Soy: the magic bullet in food security?
As the world’s most efficient protein crop (contributing up to two-thirds of total livestock feed), soy has the potential to balance the world’s food security / sustainability pendulum. Indeed, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization calls for its production to double by 2050.
Meanwhile, this small bean has been heavily criticized for its part in deforestation and the associated impact on indigenous communities, especially in the Amazon. Collaborative efforts like the Soy Moratorium, an agreement to prohibit trading soy derived from Amazon land deforested after 2008, have turned the tide on soy-related Amazon deforestation. Collective efforts now need to be extended beyond Amazon to other equally fragile soy production regions, such as the Cerrado.