Sustainable agriculture: make climate change your business

Nicolas Mounard, Twin and Twin Trading

When some attention grabbing headlines picked up on threats to coffee production in the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, climate change was suddenly transported from distant melting ice caps to much closer to home. Here at Twin, the ethical trading organisation specialising in coffee, we are acutely aware that business is waking up to this reality.

Smart businesses are investing within their value chains today to ensure that they are climate resilient. Without investment now, productivity and quality is likely to be compromised in the medium, not long-term.

The future of farming – lessons from the IPCC

The IPCC report finds that profound climate effects are already being felt around the world, something our team is witnessing in coffee communities day to day. Poor, marginalised and rural communities are likely to be the hardest hit, and shortages in climate sensitive crops will cause global hunger and drive up food prices. The report also finds that shifts in production areas, water stress and increases in agricultural pests and diseases will result in a “loss of productivity of high-value crops such as tea, coffee and cocoa [which] would have detrimental impacts on export earnings.”

Despite all this, the IPCC says there’s still time to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. In fact, it cites local and traditional knowledge systems and practices, including indigenous peoples’ holistic view of community and environment, as a major resource for adapting to climate change. This idea is central to Twin’s approach to development, which is why all of our adaptation projects begin with farmer consultation. Besides, there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer. As the report says, we need local insight to tailor interventions to the stresses, vulnerabilities and resources on the ground.

The power of partnerships – a value chain approach

Engaging producers is not enough, however. Meeting this enormous global challenge requires us to work together, but making change has to be in everyone’s interest if it’s to be sustained. That’s why Twin is engaged throughout the value chain to make the business case for adaptation with all actors in the chain. Our approach is to foster partnerships from farm to fork, to bring together skills, knowledge and resources and build something greater than the sum of its parts.

Climate change adaptation includes a broad range of interventions that impact quality, productivity, and food security. These interventions could cover anything from water conservation, farm renovation, and soil conservation to farmer training on organic agriculture and good practices. Businesses and farmers alike should therefore view adaptation not in isolation, but as an integral to any sustainable business model.

Communicating sustainability – what businesses want

The business case goes beyond building resilience to safeguard a consistent, quality supply of essential ingredients; it’s also about building a credible, sustainable brand. We wanted to gain a better understanding of the business needs around sustainability in order to unlock the marketing potential of climate smart investments and add further value for producers. To do this, we conducted a survey of the coffee buyers sourcing from five producer organisations taking part in our Big Lottery Fund (BLF) climate initiative in Nicaragua – a project which uses climate field schools as spaces for farmers to share knowledge and learn good practices.

Strikingly, the survey results revealed little appetite for a new climate consumer label. Buyers expressed low interest from their customers in ‘climate-marketing’. Instead, what they are interested in is information. They want to know what action producers are taking to improve good agricultural practices and build climate resilience. Comprehensive Monitoring and Evaluation systems are therefore crucial, as buyers want to understand how new practices impact productivity and quality, as well as seeing the breakdown of costs and savings.

Based on these insights, Twin has supported BLF project partner Cafenica, an association of smallholder coffee producer organisations, in building an online platform (http://web.cafenica.net/en). The next step is to link back to the producer organisations’ own websites and use the platform as a marketing hub for sending out newsletters to buyers. Two years in, the BLF project has resulted in community action plans being drawn up in each region based on the location-specific findings from climate field schools. Buyers are able to find out more about such activities via the website, and invest in those which meet their business needs and resonate with their customers.