Agribusiness companies are shifting their operations and corporate mission statements in ways that would be unheard of just a few short years ago. Their objectives are lofty–finding ways to future-proof their supply chains while addressing environmental degradation, climate change and the needs of the communities where they work.
This effort comes from a genuine place. Many now see the need to look at how their corporate decisions impact the broader world. And it’s being spurred on for many reasons: meeting sustainability commitments; reducing business risks associated with natural resource degradation, climate change and community relations; protecting fixed assets and securing supplies of critical resources or products not easily sourced elsewhere; and sharing or saving operational or investment costs.
More and more, companies realize that they won’t reach these important new objectives with the tools they used in the past. Site-level and supply chain approaches to environmental and social challenges cannot, alone, mitigate all of the associated business risks or generate these desired benefits. Modern business strategy demands that executives think bigger while also considering and influencing the actions of other stakeholders in the landscapes where they operate.
Partnerships: A powerful new business tool
Landscape partnerships can address critical sustainability planning and supply chain management gaps by reconciling competing social, economic and environmental objectives. These partnerships are based broadly on the principles of integrated landscape management (ILM), an approach that brings together stakeholders across sectors and industries to better understand their interdependence on each other and manage competition and conflicts across the landscape. Meanwhile, these partnerships provide a forum to help reconcile the needs of local stakeholders with those of national and international businesses.
Until recently, businesses had limited engagement with landscape partnerships. Between 2013 and 2015, EcoAgriculture and research partners documented 428 landscape partnerships on four continents. Shockingly, only 25% of these coalitions included private-sector partners other than farmer groups despite the centrality of the private sector in agricultural economies.
Fortunately, this reality is changing. In 2017, EcoAg worked with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform and Sustainable Food Lab to determine what could be done to speed the integration of businesses into landscape partnerships. We consulted 30 business, finance, government, sustainable development, agriculture and conservation leaders and identified a few specific actions.
First, businesses need to understand precisely the benefits and trade-offs of working at a landscape scale. Beyond that, they must build staff capacities to participate in landscape partnerships effectively. They may need to figure out how to engage more directly with smallholder farmers and small- and medium-sized enterprises in their supply chains. We also heard a clear desire for early leaders in this space to share their experiences with their peers.
A rising tide
Since 2017, we have seen our recommendations being taken up. A growing number of international companies realize that their long-term business success is tied to healthy communities and ecosystems. There has been a dramatic increase in the visibility of businesses in landscape partnerships, especially international corporations involved in food, fiber, fashion and botanicals.
Business-led groups such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the Global Agribusiness Alliance, Tropical Forest Alliance, numerous NGOs collaborating with businesses and inter-governmental processes have facilitated this increased engagement. There has also been broad international policy endorsement of integrated landscape approaches in sustainability-related UN conventions (climate, biodiversity, land degradation, and food systems) and the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration. Interest among financial institutions is intensifying, as is support from public and private donors.
As businesses increasingly seek out these partnerships, demand for guidance on engaging and supporting them has grown. Our initiative, 1000 Landscapes for 1 Billion People (1000L), is well aware of this need and is working on how to best contribute. In 2020, 1000L began to strengthen landscape partnerships worldwide to achieve their regenerative goals. Our ongoing work focuses on developing a digital platform with tools and resources, including capacity development, finance mobilization for landscape investments and a global action network to assist these partnerships.
Under the 1000L banner, EcoAgriculture Partners and Rainforest Alliance convened a roundtable in November that brought together senior business leaders. Executives shared their experiences and lessons they’ve learned working with landscape partnerships. The event also helped us generate insights for 1000L to develop practical tools and services to support businesses and landscape partnerships in these efforts.
This rich session provided a wide range of specific ideas. The most commonly voiced need was to create a community of practice on business and landscapes where leaders can continue to exchange ideas about how to engage with landscape partnerships most effectively.
In 2022, 1000L will continue to work with business leaders to design strategies and activities to further this goal. We also plan to promote the local businesses that are critical to regenerating degraded landscapes. 1000L will continue sharing vital resources on these topics. Stay tuned!