World Wildlife Fund Sustainability Works

filtered by category: Food Security

  • Date: 10 September 2020
  • Author: McDonald's Corporation

McDonald’s feeds millions of people around the world every day and with that comes a responsibility – and opportunity – to use our size and scale to help transform the global food system for the better. While COVID-19 has revealed near-term supply chain vulnerabilities, climate change will have even more devastating impacts along the food system value chain in the long run - from changing weather patterns to the potential collapse of ecosystems, and as shown in the 2020 global Living Planet Report, we can’t put climate action on hold. In 2018, McDonald’s became the first restaurant company in the world to commit to a science based target to reduce emissions across our restaurants, offices and supply chain by 2030 from a 2015 base year. We can’t do this alone, which is why we’re partnering with our franchisees, suppliers, farmers, ranchers and expert partners, like WWF.

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  • Date: 22 June 2020
  • Author: Jason Clay, SVP, Markets

Finding the right balance between food imports and domestic production will continue to be a challenge as COVID-19 disrupts supply chains and governments want to ensure that food will be available for their citizens. Trade is an essential part of any sustainable food system. There will be pandemics, droughts, and plagues of locusts in any given year, and unfortunately, like now, sometimes all in the same year. Trade helps the global food system fill in the cracks created by disruptive individual or multiple events, regardless of their origin, that may lead to localized rolling hunger across a landscape.

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  • Date: 18 June 2020
  • Author: Stephanie Bradley, director of fisheries in transition

One of the biggest threats to the ocean is unsustainable fishing. When done right fishing can benefit people while maintaining balance in nature. But when fishing practices take too heavy a toll on the marine environment, wildlife populations and critical habitats decline, which jeopardizes jobs and a critical food supply.

Fishery improvement projects—called FIPs—are the most widely-used approach for raising standards in fisheries around the world so that species, habitats, and people can all thrive. WWF helped pioneer the approach more than a decade ago and today FIPs account for nearly one in every ten pounds of fish caught worldwide.

After more than a decade of leveraging seafood buying power to catalyze these improvements in fisheries, we now have a good idea of what is working and what parts of the approach need to be improved. There’s never been more incentive to get it right—and fast.

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  • Date: 09 January 2020
  • Author: Jason Clay

The Markets Institute at WWF identifies global issues and emerging trends around the most pressing challenges of our time to help us all learn and shift faster. As always, we'll be tracking a wide variety of food and soft commodity issues, trends, and tools as we move into 2020, dubbed the super-year for the environment. We know we will see more political volatility and financial crises, and the impacts of climate change to not only be felt more deeply but also recognized for what they are—a ticking time bomb for the future so long as they are not addressed. Here are just a few of the other issues, trends and tools we will be tracking this year:

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  • Date: 01 January 2019
  • Author: Jason Clay, SVP Markets, Exec Director of the Markets Institute

The Markets Institute at WWF identifies global issues, trends, and tools around the most pressing challenges of our time. Each year we release a list of what we see as the top emerging industry developments that may not be apparent to help stakeholders stay ahead of the curve, and to help us all shift faster.

The lists are identified through research, interviews, data analysis, and discussions with our Thought Leader Group. Here are the top issues, trends, and tools to keep an eye on in 2019:

ISSUES

Normalization of hate and racism

There is an increase in the acceptance of hate and racism globally, but most notably of all in the US. When those in power are guilty of such actions it empowers everyone with similar feelings to speak out openly and, all too often, aggressively. This polarizes societies. Historically such episodes have been more frequent during periods of economic uncertainty. As groups blame others for their plight, if they have power, they will use existing institutions to enforce their views. However, at least in the US, it is now likely that this will become a flashpoint, as those preaching hate are in the minority, and issues will boil over if sparked.

Animal protein is the new coal

There is some evidence that animal protein is becoming the new coal. Several donors, NGOs, and researchers are attacking animal protein from a variety of perspectives including animal welfare, environmental impacts, and human health. The EAT/Lancet Report will further polarize the issue as many around the world will look at the research behind the report as biased and selected to push a particular type of diet without understanding why people eat what they do much less the role different proteins, nutrients and minerals play in diets as well as the tradeoffs. But mostly people don’t like to be told what to eat, especially not by the privileged.

EU will act on global deforestation

The EU will begin to act against deforestation at a governmental and trade level. There are a few issues that will likely inform this discussion before all is said and done. For many in the global South, EU countries have deforested for millennia—there is very little old-growth forest left—so this move will be seen as hypocrisy at best or at worst the global South will be “paying for” the GHG emissions of the global North. Taking illegal deforestation off the table is simple and WTO compliant. Taking all deforestation out of trade is more problematic. It is difficult to understand how such a trade policy would be WTO compliant given that the PPM (production, processing, and manufacturing) mechanism does not allow countries to discriminate against products based on how they are produced. The issue is likely to be even more complicated because many EU countries have forests and other natural habitat that might become suitable for food production as climate change shifts things North.

Wealth & conspicuous consumption

Wealth has probably been around for as long as people. Prized possessions have been found in burials after tens of thousands of years. However, as societies evolved and became more sedentary—as well as differentiated and stratified—wealth became associated with different groups. Today, as global incomes are rising, most people can have more wealth than previous generations. What is happening now, however, is that wealth and conspicuous consumption are coming together—people are what they have. This is leading to consumption that drives others who see it to consume more. We need to find meaning in our lives other than the acquisition of things.

Economic growth as THE issue

You manage what you measure. Economic growth has become the single indicator of global prosperity. But, despite strong economic growth for some time, far too many still live in poverty. The management model doesn’t seem to be working, and the price is to clear—depletion of natural resources, the stubborn maintenance of malnutrition, and the wealth gap widening in most countries. The planet and the poor cannot afford too many more decades like the last ones. We need to delink prosperity from economic growth, or, put another way, have prosperity that doesn’t leave so many behind? As long as economic growth measures only productivity, output, and profit—with no accounting for natural resources, poverty, malnourishment, and human rights, or everyone’s ability to achieve their potential—then we are measuring the wrong things.

TRENDS

Declining political influence of the West

There has been a noticeable decline in the roles played by both the US and the EU politically as well as economically. In part this is due to specific leaders, but it is also part of a backlash against global systems and undue influence of so few at the expense of others. There are far more bi-lateral negotiations now than global ones about politics, security, trade, and even environmental issues. This will continue, especially through South to South negotiations.

Shift of ag biotech to the Mississippi

While the undisputed global tech leader is still Silicon Valley and the Bay Area more generally, there is currently a lot of investment in the US Midwest, especially in the Mississippi River Valley in cities such as St. Louis, Memphis, and Kansas City. However, these regions have a long way to go to catch up with the work, particularly in genetics, at UC-Davis and UC-Berkeley, and no less so then global leader Beijing Genomic Institute in China.

Freshwater grows scarcer

There are already a couple of dozen countries experiencing chronic freshwater shortages. This is likely to worsen with more people, more demands on water sources, unpredictable impact of climate change and weather variability on water availability. We are going to have to get better at recharging aquifers as well as capturing and storing freshwater from homes and cities to the country level as well. We are going to have to cut the total water used to produce food (which should be relatively easy as so much irrigation water is wasted), as well as be more efficient in personal and industrial water use. As water scarcity mounts, the value will go up, and this will drive efficiency.

Global conversations about diet get uglier

Nobody likes to be told what they should eat. Global conversations about diet have become galvanized around the idea of healthy parameters for both people and planet, especially in countries where food security is not perceived to be an issue. There is an increasing chasm in the discussions between the "haves" vs. the "have nots" in the global food system. As the science evolves, we need to ensure that both issues are addressed—how those without access to food and nutrition can get it, as well as determining the more sustainable and affordable nutrient sources for people and the planet. Changes in food values are shifting the debate's focus from production to consumption.

Climate migration

In retrospect, many see the migrations out of the Middle East and North Africa into Europe as the first mass migrations that resulted from climate change. For others, it was smallholders in Central America who were forced to flee their farms because they no longer produced enough coffee or corn to feed their families. Climate-induced migration has already begun, and it will continue in virtually every part of the planet, though it may often be attributed to other causes. We will need to address displacement and food security while we are addressing climate change.

TOOLS

Green bonds for reforestation

Green bonds are instruments recognized by organizations from the World Bank to private financial entities, corporations, pension funds, and governments as a tool that can be issued to finance projects or activities that have a positive impact on climate or the environment. Most green bonds are structurally identical to more conventional bonds, but they are distinguished by the green uses they are put to, e.g. green infrastructure, renewable energy, rehabilitation of degraded land for farming, reforestation, regenerative agricultural practices, etc. They also have generally the same ratings as the entities that issue them.

Fake news goes mainstream

The old adage, trust but verify, has never been truer. It is hard to trust anything that is heard firsthand without first verifying it, but verification is also getting harder. Presumably, freedom of speech and freedom of the press gives one the right to speak or publish without fear of being censored, but it does not abdicate the responsibility of knowing that what you are printing holds true. When the untruths and distortions affect elections, public policies, institutions, health, and safety or target specific groups for persecution we know this tool has been weaponized. As global as we have become, most people get their information from family and friends who all get it from the internet and social media. In the past the media had fact checkers. Social media use algorithms, but they are not working.

Machine learning and AI—tools to separate signal from noise, smoke from fire

There is considerable evidence that machine learning can be applied to many different parts of the economy and greatly improve overall management, and they will start to take the food system by storm—from producers to consumers. Two question questions come up very quickly: 1) Who owns the data; 2) will some of the poorest producers and rural laborers benefit from machine learning or be displaced by it? It’s a pity that one of the global trends isn’t increased public spending for education in farming and rural communities. If that happened more people would have other options and not as many would be forced to make their living from farming.

It's time to work more collaboratively in making tech help us all learn more quickly about how reducing impacts in ag. Smartphones to train farmers, get them access to finance, collect and share data, reduce waste, and share farm equipment. Farmers can now time their delivery to process plants to reduce waste and obtain higher prices. We need to adapt or create similar tools and learning systems for carbon management and measurement, risk management, traceability, and transparency along the entire value chain, not just where it is easiest.

Emissions incentives for producers

In 2018, awareness about the role of agriculture, forestry, and land use in climate change began to pick up steam. How will conversations on food systems and land use as both contributors to and solutions for the climate crisis continue to evolve? How will the impacts of extreme weather and climate change on agriculture affect our ability to feed everyone in a world of increasing nationalism and protectionism? One thing is for sure, we need more carrots and fewer sticks if we are to find voluntary ways to reduce GHG emissions and sequester carbon in the food system. Low cost food comes at a high price to both producers and the planet.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative

China’s Belt and Road Initiative is a food and resource security strategy dressed up as a global development program. It’s clear China is using development assistance to line up access to a supply of farmland and natural resources for decades to come. In addition to the infrastructure, China is using 99-year leases on land to farm where farming has never happened (e.g. the grasslands of Inner Asia). While this is smart for China, is it smart for the countries and the businesses that are the beneficiaries of this global strategy? Only time will tell—but it is certainly worth watching as this strategy unfolds.

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Stay tuned for what else we see this year, and help us keep an eye on the horizon.

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  • Date: 01 January 2018
  • Author: Jason Clay, SVP Markets, Exec Director of the Markets Institute

The Markets Institute at WWF identifies global issues, trends, and tools around the most pressing challenges of our time. Each year we release a list of what we see as the top emerging industry developments that may not be apparent to help stakeholders stay ahead of the curve, and to help us all shift faster.

The lists are identified through research, interviews, data analysis, and discussions with our Thought Leader Group. Here are the top issues, trends, and tools to keep an eye on in 2018:

ISSUES

Trade wars

With the recent resurfacing of nationalism around the world, we should expect an increase in trade wars as countries use trade to negotiate many different issues including global parity around cost of production as well as positioning countries to support domestic political platforms and constituencies. If/when trade wars come to include food—whether to close borders entirely or even just limit exports—then it will most certainly cause environmental impacts.

Plastics and food waste

The rush to limit plastic in the environment and particularly plastic ending up in the oceans is unprecedented. The full extent of the environmental impacts of plastic are only beginning to be understood. However, plastic does have several benefits, especially when it comes to food in terms of both safety and improved storage life. We need to be careful that we don’t move so far to remove plastics that we begin to increase food loss and waste. We need to find ways to recreate the benefits and convenience of plastic, or we need to find ways to keep plastics out of the environment or both.

From traceability to transparency

For several years, companies have become more and more interested in where their products are produced. Certification and verification systems do this (to some extent), but they are expensive and often proprietary, so many different systems have been created including—but not limited to—Blockchain. The traceability systems, however, rarely go all the way to the farm where production happens, or even further back to feed and other inputs. And now companies are beginning to realize that it is probably more important to know how the product is produced as where it is produced.

The rise of urban and controlled environment agriculture

There are hundreds of vertical, soilless agriculture operations in the US and thousands around the world. These operations offer the opportunity of producing food in urban areas, in food deserts, and in areas with severe water shortages. They also have the potential to reduce food loss and increase shelf life. While the number of species grown is still rather small and dominated by leafy greens, it is broadening. The cost of production remains high, but the operations are akin to that of solar and wind power in the 1970s. As the industry grows and people innovate, the costs will go down and these systems will be more affordable and more versatile. Even better if the actors can share knowledge on certain technology and grow more quickly through collaboration.

Finance resilience

The impacts of climate change, both chronic and extreme weather events, have occurred more quickly than anyone thought. We are already seeing undeniable impacts on production, livelihoods, and nutrition. Two places where this is most pronounced are with smallholder producers of tree crops: cocoa in West Africa and coffee in Central America. Many producers are beginning to struggle as their products and production systems falter in the face of unpredictable rains and drought and the spread of pests and diseases. Governments have generally reduced funding for food and agriculture just when they need to be increasing it. Companies need to find ways to invest in the producers in their supply chains not just for traceability and transparency but also for resiliency.

Cyber warfare, food security
To date, cyber-attacks have largely ignored food and food security targets. However, as food delivery via e-commerce platforms grows, the potential for cyber-attacks increases. As trade becomes more politicized, food production also becomes a bigger target. Finally, as food productions increasingly depends on electricity or digitally based systems for irrigation, feeding, or detection, cyber warfare targeting food systems will become a lot more common.

TRENDS

Food e-commerce

E-commerce for food has grown considerably in recent years. It started with fast food delivery services like pizza in the US. But it has expanded to include uncooked food home delivery, mostly in China starting with Alibaba, and then on to the US with Amazon, Blue Apron, and more. Some grocery retailers have been delivering food for over a decade and they are stepping up the pace to compete. This trend will only expand.

Changing consumption patterns

Consumption patterns have shifted for as long as people have been exposed to different foods and types of cuisine. This of course increased as mass transportation became more common, and it has increased even more as social media has connected people around the world through food. Today, health and nutrition concerns, as well as age also influence consumption. However, as food becomes more global and even niche markets can be quite large, global finance is also increasing the pace and scale of change. When coupled with high net worth individuals with strong food preferences and opinions, even more funding becomes available.

M&A over R&D

In the face of climate change, the rise of nationalism and increasing trade wars, companies are investing increasing amounts in mergers and acquisitions and less in research and development. It is cheaper to buy innovation and market share than it is to build it out from scratch. There are simply too many things that can be relevant to a viable company today than ever before.

Go North (or South), young man

Climate change is driving chronic changes in crop growing zones, winter freezes, and average rainfall as well as increasing extreme weather like hurricanes, droughts, floods, fires, and dust bowls. Crops are moving North in North America but also in Europe and Asia, and South in Africa and Latin America. And habitat conversion continues and GHG emissions increase.

Precompetitive platform uptake

The number of precompetitive platforms has increased rapidly as companies begin to realize that many of the most important issues they must address are shared with others, as are the solutions. Sustainability is a precompetitive issue. Companies are responsible for what they do directly, however, most of the biggest impact of food products are where and how raw materials are produced and then consumed. What happens in the middle has fewer impacts. No company can solve production and consumption issues alone. Climate change and other crises will spur more collaboration.

TOOLS

Common protein and nutrition metrics

As questions on healthier and more nutritious diets become more common, calories will no longer be a sufficient metric for malnourishment. We need a common set of metrics to compare proteins and other key nutrients from very different kinds of foods so that we can compare apples to apples, so to speak. Many plants have proteins—are they the right ones? Many animal proteins have nutrients—are they the right ones? At what ages are different proteins and nutrients most important in human lives? How many of these proteins and nutrients already exist in household gardens of local communities and indigenous people but have never been studied by science? Is there a way to create averages or ranges, or is every individual truly unique?

CRISPR & gene editing

CRISPR and other types of gene editing allow for the selection and replication of traits that already exist within a genome, e.g. productivity, flavor profiles, and nutrient density. However, they are also tools that can be used to help make organisms more resilient in the face of climate change, e.g. drought or heat tolerance, disease resistance, or geographic and conditional variation. These same tools can be used to create GMOs, but their benefits can also come from working on single species. Whether that happens or not in some geographies will depend on if gene editing within a species is considered a GMO or not. Portable DNA sequencers are another genetic tool to keep an eye on, with potential for hunting down pests, testing for viruses, and bringing science directly into the hands of farmers.

Agrobots and tech

There have been a plethora of new robotic and other technology developments along the value chain. Drones monitor field conditions including soil moisture, plant health, and disease outbreaks at a fraction of the costs of humans, and very quickly with higher levels of certainty. Tractors drive themselves while also geo-spatially monitoring seeding rates and fertilizer applications, herbicide applications and pest issues, and productivity tied back to inputs used. Agrobots can be used to help determine optimal harvest times and increasingly, harvesting can be automated. Finally, distribution centers are automated and home food deliveries can be made by bots. There’s no question this will be a multibillion dollar industry in short order, but how it will impact labor and if/when it will price some farmers out of the business remains to be seen.

Science-based targets for supply chains

Many companies are making commitments to reduce GHG emissions to help limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. They have started with scope 1 emissions (what they produce themselves onsite) and scope 2 emissions (the energy they purchase). However, in the food industry, scope 3 emissions (how raw materials are produced upstream and how products are consumed) are by far the largest contribution. As we have seen with other certification programs, making commitments is one thing, making change happen is quite another. If the food sector is going to make a meaningful contribution to prevent climate change, we need to find the right incentives.


Social media and misinformation

Social media has allowed the spread of misinformation at unprecedented levels. Couple that with the fact that more people seem to be driven by their own opinions or those of trusted friends than they are by science, and there’s a perfect storm of misinformation. This is a minefield for anyone interested in science-based solutions for the world’s most pressing problems, but it is increasingly difficult for government and the private sector to navigate this space. Social media and the underlying technology are powering the spread of misinformation, and at the end of the day the platforms intended to bring us together are leading to social polarization.

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  • Date: 21 February 2017
  • Author: Jason Clay

When a large, global food company commits to deforestation-free commodities, its entire supply chain listens. And when McDonald’s does so, other global food companies follow suit. That’s why the company’s commitment to source only deforestation-free beef by 2020 in regions with identified risks relating to the preservation of forests holds such promise to protect critical habitats, including Latin America’s most valuable ecosystems.

While deforestation has slowed across parts of the Amazon, it remains the world’s largest arc of deforestation. Furthermore, as if to compensate for progress in the Brazilian Amazon, deforestation has intensified in other Amazon regions of countries neighboring Brazil, as well as the Cerrado savannah of Brazil, and the Chaco mixed grass and woodlands of Paraguay and Argentina.

Many factors drive deforestation, but beef production is the biggest. Cattle ranching occupies about 80 percent of the deforested area in the Amazon, and it has led to the conversion of nearly 200 million acres of Cerrado habitat. Between 1976 and 2011, more than 29 million acres of Chaco habitat were converted largely first for the production of beef and then soy, a feed source for livestock.

The environmental impacts of deforestation are clear: it contributes to climate change, drought, soil degradation and erosion, water pollution, the spread of disease, and the loss of biodiversity. There are a number of social impacts as well from land conflicts to bonded and child labor, the displacement of indigenous cultures, and deterioration of water quality for drinking and fish, the most common source of protein in many affected areas.

From multinational traders to smallholder farmers, businesses increasingly recognize the economic risks of deforestation, such as resource scarcity and soil degradation, supply chain instability, legal jeopardy, and reputational harm. Its impact on weather variability is particularly troublesome for Latin American farmers who largely rely on rain as opposed to irrigation. Indeed, research indicates that deforestation has contributed to several “once-in-a-century” droughts and floods in Brazil since 2000.

Global food companies are in a unique position to influence not only their own supply chains but also that of their rivals. McDonald’s need for ground beef from select cuts leaves the majority of each animal for other buyers. In other words, for every pound of deforestation-free beef raised on farms that supply to McDonald’s, several more pounds of food—as well as leather and other byproducts—are destined for other companies’ supply chains, facilitating a sector-wide move to conserve forests.

WWF is working to support the transition to deforestation-free commodities, such as beef, soy, palm oil, timber, and so on. As a founding member of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, for example, WWF works with producers, other industry players, environmental NGOs, and researchers to push for the adoption of locally appropriate indicators and metrics that help producers reduce the footprint of the beef they produce. In collaboration with National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, we are securing commitments from other companies in the beef and soy supply chains to eliminate deforestation in the Amazon, Cerrado, and Chaco ecosystems specifically.

Just as the global, interconnected food system means that environmental and economic impacts can reverberate around the world, so too can positive commitments to protect forests ripple out across the entire industry. As one of the largest single buyers of beef, McDonald’s influences producers, processors, distributors, and other companies at every point along the value chain. Today, it is sending a clear message to all of them: the future of beef is deforestation-free.

  • Date: 01 January 2017
  • Author: Jason Clay, SVP Markets, Exec Director of the Markets Institute

The Markets Institute at WWF identifies global issues, trends, and tools around the most pressing challenges of our time. Each year we release a list of what we see as the top emerging industry developments that may not be apparent to help stakeholders stay ahead of the curve, and to help us all shift faster.

The lists are identified through research, interviews, data analysis, and discussions with our Thought Leader Group. Here are the top issues, trends, and tools to keep an eye on in 2017:

ISSUES

Climate change as a threat multiplier

We are seeing more and more anecdotal evidence of the impacts of climate change. Nowhere more so perhaps than in the global food system. There are more pests and pathogens, weeds are healthier, seasons more variable, and there are more extreme weather events from drought to floods, hurricanes, tornados, dust bowls, fires, and more. We are also seeing the beginning of shifts in where crops are—or can be grown. Going forward, we need better systems to monitor climate impacts so we can begin to anticipate and get ahead of them.

Decentralization of global governance

Global governance systems are being undermined and replaced with bilateral arrangements and a more decentralized system. This can be seen most clearly with the World Trade Organization being moved aside by bilateral and regional trade deals. But it is also happening in several other ways. There are some issues that are truly global and that cannot be solved by one, two, or even a handful of countries. Everyone needs to be engaged. This is especially true of environmental issues—biodiversity loss knows no boundaries; neither does pollution, and GHG emissions, perhaps the biggest pollution issue of all, will not be solved without cooperation, rules of the game, measurement and continuous improvement, with everyone doing something.

Emerging zoonoses

It feels like zoonotic diseases have become a more regular occurrence. In fact, we have had an average of two every year for the past century. Except for the Spanish influenza, most of the outbreaks have not been global. However, it’s growing clearer that they are being caused by clearing natural habitat and forcing more biodiversity onto smaller amounts of land. New hosts are being found in the wild but also with the most common mammals—livestock and people. As we clear more land, encroach on more habitat, and raise more livestock, we can expect more outbreaks. And if hundred-year storms are now a twice-a-decade event, we can expect a big one, or more, on the horizon.

Microbiomes

We are at the beginning of a groundswell around microbiomes, whether it is the gut microbiome of people or animals, soil or even plant microbiomes. As we understand more about the microbiomes of different species, we have a much better idea about their role in nutrition, nutrient uptake and recycling, and the production of GHGs like methane. Microbiome research and understanding how they function will be key to changing diets of people and livestock, but also in how we feed plants and take advantage of natural processes to reduce soils amendments.

Trump & Bolsonaro: Wild Cards

No two national leaders reflect the rise of nationalism, protectionism, and the rollback of environmental protections more than Trump and Bolsonaro. Unfortunately, they are not alone, and others are likely to follow suit as we experience major pushback on globalization, as well as social and environmental agendas—and the polarization that each seems intent to encourage. Their governments look less like democracies and more like a “winner takes all” strategy. And, with these two it will get worse before it gets better; each has a constituency of loyal followers.


TRENDS

Plant-based Everything

As the movement, particularly in developed countries, toward plant-based diets gains momentum, we are seeing alternatives for anything that traditionally contained animal protein. Some of these attempts work and will begin to find market share. Most fail. But the trend is here to stay—plant-based diets will be an increasing share of the food market. The questions are how big it will become, where it will gain most tractions, how long will it take, and if they can keep the environmental impacts low if—and when—they start to scale.

Momentum from the Paris Accords

Coming out of the Paris COP, many companies have decided that they can’t wait for governments to start reducing GHG emissions. More and more companies are making commitments to reduce their own scope one emissions, as well as scope two three emissions. It is great to see this movement. The question is whether it will help drive government ambition higher.

Soil’s moment in the sun

It’s about time that the importance of soil is more widely recognized. With current farming techniques, without soil we would have no food. That is why soil (e.g. its health, erosion rates, nutrients, and biodiversity) is such an important biome for people. Regenerative agriculture, climate-smart ag, land stewardship, agroforestry, and eco-agriculture are all pushing for better soil management. Now, with the potential to pay farmers for improving soil (not for soil carbon per se, but reduced input use and increased efficiency and resiliency) rather than mining it, hopefully we will see vast improvements in productivity and reduced negative impacts.

Decline of regulation

With economic growth declining, the rise of nationalism, and the volatility of primary product pricing, most countries have less revenue and are cutting government. Many are pulling back precisely when the need to do more has never been greater, as social safety nets are disappearing and any gains for the poor are rolling back. In this vein, governments are also becoming laxer about enforcing existing regulations. This has resulted in a gradual, but pervasive increase of illegality in global food trade affecting both domestic and global food systems. It continues to go unchecked, hurting both producers and consumers, but also the planet.

Protein tradeoffs: land, sea

As people become more selective about protein sources, they are beginning to choose based not only on human health issues such as links to disease, aging, or the latest nutrition study in the news. Many are shifting from land-based proteins to those from the ocean. The real question is how does one compare proteins of different types of livestock with different seafoods, and then also production methods, e.g. free range or grain-fed and wild-caught or farmed. This trend will lead to more research about proteins and how they fit into personal nutrition plans.

Material accumulation vs. well-being

Increasingly, material accumulation is confused with well-being. This is true not just in developing countries where more people are being lifted out of poverty but also includes developed countries and the wealthy wherever they live. Displaying wealth in the form of things leads to accumulation and unnecessary consumption. It can be something as simple as having twenty t-shirts in a drawer, but only wearing three. And as things are displayed it becomes competitive and drives more accumulation. Unless people see the folly of this it only ends at the resource limits of the planet.


TOOLS

Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is increasingly being tested and used in the US for a wide variety of needs from fundraising to research. Contributions through citizen science have led to the identification of new species, species distribution and population counts, and even things like weather patterns, the impacts of climate change, and the search for criminals. However, crowdsourcing is also being used to support peer-reviewed, primary scientific research, and eventually crowds may do more of the reviewing.

Personalized nutrition

Now that we can sequence everyone’s personal DNA, we can not only anticipate medical issues or inherited traits but can keep them in check if monitored. Now it is clear that it is possible to also understand the impact of diet on health and even anticipate and ‘prescribe’ personalized nutrition plans to abate certain health issues.

Precompetitive venture capital

When XPRIZE launched the space tourism prize, they discovered that many entrants didn’t have access to the capital they needed maximize their chances to win the $10 M prize. They did not win the contest, but after the prize was awarded, four of them launched IPOs and raised $2 B in venture to take their inventions to market. Realizing that they had missed an opportunity, the Foundation created BOLD Capital, a venture fund to invest in groups that qualified to compete for XPRIZEs. The goal was to create a fund that invested in all the horses in the race. This is a way to de-risk VC is going forward.

Forest carbon sequestration

As companies attempt to reduce their GHG emissions, many realize that there is no way that they can reduce their direct GHG emissions, so they are looking for other ways to make a meaningful contribution. While it doesn’t make sense for oil and automobile companies, even airlines or thermal power plants to invest in carbon sequestration, it might make sense for banks, insurance or IT companies to reduce global emissions by investing in reforesting degraded areas or forests that are being degraded or likely to be cut. This helps solve a carbon problem and rehabilitates degraded land for nature. But this should only happen in addition to setting a broader, transparent, science-based strategy to reduce emissions in their operations and across their supply chains.

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Stay tuned for what else we see this year, and help us keep an eye on the horizon.

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  • Date: 20 July 2016
  • Author: Casey Harrison, WWF

An aerial view of small farmers feilds being irrigated during the dry season in the Ruaha catchment, Tanzania.

Flying at 10,000 feet over Tanzania can give you a unique perspective on the country’s landscapes. On a recent flight over the Nguru Mountains, our pilot told us how he’d watched first-hand over the last 30 years as the region’s forests have retreated, soil has eroded, and rivers have grown murkier, all largely due to unfettered agricultural expansion. And that’s a big part of the reason my colleagues and I were there.

We were together in the Southern Highlands on a scoping journey for the CARE-WWF Alliance, learning from governmental, community, and agricultural leaders and identifying sustainable agricultural policies and practices that can conserve biodiversity and natural resources while creating jobs and food for vulnerable women and men.

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  • Date: 01 January 2016
  • Author: Jason Clay, SVP Markets, Exec Director of the Markets Institute

The Markets Institute at WWF identifies global issues, trends, and tools around the most pressing challenges of our time. Each year we release a list of what we see as the top emerging industry developments that may not be apparent to help stakeholders stay ahead of the curve and to help us all shift faster.

The list for 2016 was identified through interviews of more than 50 C-suite executives and then narrowed down by our own Thought Leader Group. Here are the top trends identified for 2016:

ISSUES

The need to move the middle
Current efforts to improve food production focus on the best – or most progressive—producers or companies, with the notion that this will inspire movement in the rest. Yet this strategy is not likely to move the worst producers much less entire sectors. The biggest impacts will be achieved by focusing on the middle, or even the least effective producers, or those having the worst impacts and poorest productivity. Governments will probably be the most effective at changing the performance of those at the bottom, but it is not clear that governments have the appetite to do that. Still, we can’t achieve scale if we don’t at least move the middle and most likely the bottom as well.

Chasing Water
Water use has been growing exponentially, but water shortages are also on the rise. The potential economic impacts of water shortage are devastating if you consider that for human use: 70% to produce food, 20% for other industries like manufacturing and energy, and the rest is for personal consumption and use. Companies with foresight have a water risk and contingency plan, others do not. Investing in solutions that use water more efficiently can have positive impacts on both people and the planet. The question is, do governments and businesses want to invest in water now or chase it later?

Planetary boundaries
It should go without saying that Earth’s systems are finite. Yet business’ focus continues, for the most part, to be on constant growth. The concept of ‘planetary boundaries’ is starting to gain awareness – the idea of what natural systems are necessary for life to be able to continue. Yet many companies are already feeling the impact of resource constraints, water shortages, climate-associated changes, land-use change and degradation, and more. We need to much more quickly consider and shift to work within these boundaries if we are to continue to exist – through tactics including rehabilitation of degraded lands, better land use planning, and more.

Financing the food system
The U.S. SEC is starting to take seriously the question of sustainability in business practices by proposing that companies must disclose risks in climate change, water scarcity, human rights, and other risks to companies and investors. Investors are seeing the advantages of such sustainable practices, and there is a growing interest in direct investment in farm-level agriculture and venture funding in ag-tech. However, governments currently provide nearly $500B of agricultural subsidies in the top 21 food-producing countries, and these subsidies have been blamed for accelerating deforestation, excessive water use, market distortions, and the inability to transition to true-cost accounting. What is needed is capital to fund growth, innovation, climate adaptation, and reducing loss and waste. Could subsidies be shifted to cover these costs and make production more resilient at the same time? Or, the capital could take the form of long-term contracts that will buy down the risk of investing in more sustainable production.

Smallholders need capital
Smallholders have been an integral part of the global food landscape since the dawn of agriculture. However, global changes currently underway bring into question the future of smallholder agriculture – population and food demand is rising, meaning significant changes in the food system will be necessary to either put more land into production or greatly enhance productivity and efficiency per hectare. The global discourse is very strongly in favor of improving the livelihoods and efficiency of the hundreds of millions of people who make their livings from small plots of land. Yet this may not be the best choice for companies, countries or even the people themselves for without great care such programs do more to maintain poverty than to alleviate it.

TRENDS

Calling for the return of government
Recent decades have seen a withdrawal of government across the development and management of soft commodity industries, replaced by businesses. Companies are responding more rapidly and at scale than governments to global issues and problems. Governments have abnegated their roles in many contexts, hoping that companies would assume these functions. This is not working, and governments need to return to a more active role in the marketplace, creating the enabling conditions and enforcing mechanisms needed to be more sustainable and businesses to succeed. In the food arena alone governments need to shape the development of agricultural finance, create and apply tax incentives, foster agricultural development and innovation, take greater risks in funding, manage common pool resources, enforce laws on illegality, take steps to control food loss and waste, and create regulations to address changing technology, products, market opportunities, and environmental conditions.

Controversial topics: Science vs. Beliefs
Food is one of the most discussed – yet often one of the most polarizing – topics in the world. Controversy permeates from production practices across the value chain to marketing. What one eats—or won’t eat, organic vs. conventional, GMO vs. non-GMO, labeling and naming, nutritional guidelines, environmental impacts climate change, ag-biotech, just to name a few. The data and the science behind these issues are often unclear or contested. This is occurring at a time when the public is increasingly skeptical about science, and the media covers all sides equally, NGOs often fan these flames, taking values-based positions that are presented as science-based positions. Business, meanwhile, is retreating from public discussions of these issues.

Funding for innovation
Innovation has been the buzzword of the last year or so. But innovation must be more than innovation for its own sake; to be effective, it needs to be directed towards the major problems facing both people and the planet. In 2016 several major governments and multilaterals launched innovation funding to support agricultural innovation or technologies to improve global food production and security. Business investors in the US have “discovered” food as a place to innovate and invest. The launch of new food and ag funding sources including crowdfunding, accelerators, impact investment funds, corporate incubators will likely double in the coming year. But these efforts must be targeted and well-deployed if they are to change practices or reduce key impacts of production and along product chains.

Growing global inequality
The richest 1% of people now have more wealth than the rest of the world’s population. There is growing inequality not just between individuals but between countries, and this is especially so when it comes to food. The U.S. population spends an average of 6.9% of its income on food while Angolans spends up to 80% of income on food. Due to limitations of access and distribution some 2.3 billion people in developing countries consume under 2.500 kcal/day while 1.9 billion in developed countries are consuming more than 3,000 kcal/day with a growing problem of obesity. Food inequality will only increase in the years ahead with climate change, land scarcity, and water scarcity. Population growth and unequal increased incomes will lead to greater targeted food demand. All of these trends will result in increased pressure on the land, higher and more volatile food prices, increased likelihood of price shocks, and the persistence of malnutrition and stunting.

TOOLS

Certification programs
Many efforts of the past few decades to address the environmental and social impacts of food production have focused on the development and implementation of third-party voluntary certification standards. While share of certified products has grown rapidly for certain soft commodities (palm, sugar, cocoa, cotton) it still represents a small percentage of the main commodity supply chains and other commodities have seen slow uptake, limited market penetration, and confusion created by competing labels. There is a growing need for and interest in assessing the effectiveness of this tool, and we face the potential need to redefine how they are deployed, whether they measurably reduce impacts and the underlying theories of change.

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Stay tuned for what else we see this year, and help us keep an eye on the horizon.

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