The Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform Celebrates 15th Anniversary in Beijing

On April 24th-27th, the SAI platform marked its 15th anniversary with a special conference on sustainable agriculture in Beijing.

An innovative multi-stakeholder platform

In 2002, Danone, Unilever and Nestlé joined forces to create the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative platform. Reflecting on this landmark event and its impact, Danone CEO Emmanuel Faber declared:

“Fifteen years ago, our aim was to create a common vision and framework for action to address the sustainability challenges facing agriculture. Fifteen years later we have a common approach with FSA* and have expanded our Platform. At Danone, we believe that sustainable agriculture should respect and protect the people, the planet and the animals while consuming less and using natural resources in an efficient way. Furthermore, there is no single path to it, rather a diversity of models and practices co-developed with farmers and suppliers who provide raw agricultural ingredients. Collaboration is key. My wish is to see this Platform enabling multi-stakeholder projects that deliver measurable impacts to progress towards our common goal of sustainable agriculture.”

*Farm Sustainability Assesment

Since its creation, the SAI platform has expanded to over 90 members, all of which share a vision of sustainable agriculture as: “the efficient production of safe, high-quality agricultural products in a way that protects and improves the natural environment, the social and economic conditions of farmers, their employees and local communities, and safeguards the health and welfare of all farmed species,” explained Paul Gardner, VP One Direct Sourcing at Danone.

On April 24–27, the platform’s members gather in Beijing, China, to celebrate the anniversary of the platform and look at sustainable agriculture practices in China, with the participation of Chinese government authorities, international and national agro-food companies, vital financing entities, NGOs and other stakeholders. Organized around the theme “Feeding the World’s Rapidly Growing Urban Population”, the conference explored the role of the food sector in the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals; how technology and innovation will shape food production in the future; and the ways in which the food industry can contribute to the sustainable supply of raw materials. The gathering was also the occasion to conduct field visits and examine the core aspects of what sustainable agriculture means in China today.

Improving sustainability knowledge-sharing in the developing world

The choice of China for this anniversary was not coincidental. “The platform in the beginning was mainly focused on Europe. Then we developed one in Australia, more recently in Brazil and we are keen on developing a new chapter in Beijing,” says Paul Gardner. The world’s second largest economy enjoys growth rates long forgotten in post-industrialized countries, and is increasingly taking into account the economic and social costs of environmental damage in the equation.

Pascal de Petrini in China — SAI platform, 2017

Speaking at the Beijing conference; Pascal Petrini, Executive Vice President Strategic Resource Cycles at Danone, underscored that China represents “20% of the world’s population and only 10% of the arable land, with 300 million people associated with agriculture and, at the same time, a fast growing urbanization. We need to engage China, its farmers and its Food & Beverage entrepreneurs, and we need them to join us to create really global standards.” While the country’s agriculture relies heavily on industrial farms, some of which are state sponsored, it also depends on a myriad of smallholding farms, which are the focus of the SAI Platform. According to Paul Gardner, “I learned this week that globally, 25% of the farmers account for 50% of the damage done to the environment and yet they only create 10% of the production. And that is why it is important to focus on smallholder farmers.” The challenge may seem tremendous, but the conference demonstrated that the transition to sustainable agriculture is already underway in China. “If I had to summarise the event,” mused Paul Gardner, “I think it was a huge success. We probably came with some misconceptions regarding sustainable agriculture in China, but I can tell you that China is doing it. And different actors there are committed to making it happen.”

The Beijing conference was more than an anniversary celebration in that it allowed participants to reaffirm their commitment to the SAI platform moving forward. SAI “can play a key role in the future to accelerate the much needed progress towards a more sustainable agriculture and resilient food system, ensuring a sustainable future for our businesses as well as the farming communities and the planet,” concluded Pascal de Petrini.

- By Usbek & Rica -

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