Food as a Force for Good

Can what we eat positively impact both people and the planet?

By Nicholas Spencer | January 7, 2022

IBIS Rice Farmer in Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia. Credit: © IBIS Rice

We have seen increasing evidence of the intrinsic link between what we eat and the health of our planet, with unsustainable food production being a significant driver of the global climate and biodiversity crises. The urgency to reduce our environmental impact could not be more apparent.

Thankfully, more and more communities are taking bold steps to adopt a more zero-food-waste, plastic-free, and reduced or meat-free lifestyle while building a growing demand for more sustainably produced food. But what if food production could go beyond zero impact by adopting an approach that delivers positive change?

A Net-Positive Approach

A net-positive approach means creating systems that positively impact society, the environment, and the economy. For example, when it comes to food production, this would mean farming that actively reverses negative trends and begins to restore and replenish the earth’s natural systems while improving people’s livelihood opportunities and human health.

“IBIS Rice works exclusively with wildlife-friendly forest farmers who commit to the strict principles of organic farming, zero deforestation and logging, and zero poaching.”

How Does This Work in Practice?

An example of a food maker adopting this approach is IBIS Rice, a WCS-supported rice brand I am proud to lead. IBIS Rice’s mission is straightforward: to save endangered wildlife from the brink of extinction while growing premium jasmine rice. IBIS Rice works exclusively with wildlife-friendly forest farmers who commit to the strict principles of organic farming, zero deforestation and logging, and zero poaching. In return for their strict compliance to these conservation and organic standards, we purchase their rice at a premium rate (up to 70 percent above market price).

Giant Ibis in Cambodian Northern Plains. Credit: © Phann Sithan/WCS Cambodia

As well as protecting the environment around the farms, IBIS Rice farmers are also investing in soil health and fertility by introducing green-manure crops that grow after rice that replace nutrients in the soil that the rice uses. In addition, small wildlife-friendly ponds are being dug near these forest farms to provide extra water in the ever more unpredictable monsoon season and as a vital resource for wildlife in the height of the dry season.

“The Ibis Rice model shows that food makers can create a lasting impact without compromising quality, producing the best food without depleting the environment.”

After over ten years of perfecting its wildlife-friendly approach, we have seen reduced rates of deforestation and poaching and improved economic vitality in their partner communities. Our model also proves that food makers can create a lasting impact without compromising quality, producing the best food without depleting the environment.

IBIS Rice Grains & Rice Cakes. Credit: © IBIS Rice

Ensuring Good Food for All

Not every food company is able to model this approach. However, as we face the dual crisis of climate change and biodiversity loss, sustainable agriculture on a global scale will not be achievable if we are still losing precious ecosystems and not supporting communities at the frontier of conservation.

In other words, if we cannot reverse negative trends such as deforestation, habitat loss and inequality, no food will be sustainable. That is why ensuring sustainable food systems for all starts with actioning positive change in the places that matter the most.

Nicholas Spencer is CEO, IBIS Rice Conservation Co., Ltd.

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