The 2022 results of our regenerative agriculture projects are in and it is good news, with progress made across the field. As Unilever continues to add and scale up projects in 2023 and beyond, we take a closer look at the environmental impact these first programmes are making.
Why regenerative agriculture matters: four takeaways from our LinkedIn Live
To launch our ‘From the Ground Up’ campaign exploring the importance of regenerative agriculture and the urgent need to transition at scale, we invited thought leaders from across the food industry to a LinkedIn Live dedicated to all things soil health. Here are four takeaways.
Why should regenerative agriculture matter to business?
This is the question we asked our panel of experts at our LinkedIn Live dedicated to digging into the reasons why soil health has become a business imperative.
Together, Robbert de Vreede (Unilever Chief Marketing & Business Development Officer, Nutrition), Emilie Haspeslagh (Sustainability Director at Ardo), Mark Isbell (farmer and Partner at Isbell Farms) and Sam Kass (Partner at Acre Venture Partners and former Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition in the Obama administration) delivered a simple answer. Without a regenerative approach to farming there is no future for food or agriculture businesses.
The question for them is how, rather than if, we should transition to regenerative farming models.
Here’s a snapshot of their answers.
Agriculture is one of our biggest problems and our best hope
Food and agriculture are the second-largest driver of greenhouse gas emissions and the biggest drain on global water resources. The industry is also on the frontline of climate change, with droughts and floods threatening crops and livelihoods.
But Sam Kass suggests that the food and agriculture industry could also offer our best hope of solutions.
“We’re seeing our supply chains already being deeply challenged by droughts and floods and greater volatility in the system,” he says. Timestamp 4:35
“I believe truly that food and agriculture hold the promise to solve some of the greatest challenges of climate by improving our soil health and sequestering much more carbon in the soil.” Timestamp 4:56
Regenerative agriculture is everyone’s business now
There can be no viable food business if crops fail. Climate change is already threatening sourcing options and it is only by investing in regenerating and protecting soil that businesses will be able to ensure their future.
“The main motivation to really invest in regenerative agriculture is definitely resilience to climate change,” says Emilie Haspeslagh. Timestamp 14:33
“In the last five years we’ve really seen a dramatic shift. We’ve seen a loss of yields in our fields of about 20% across Europe, across all our crops.” Timestamp 14:58
“And this is only the beginning of it. So we really need to increase this resilience to climate change and it all starts with the soil… [Soil] is really our best ally to combat climate impact.” Timestamp 15:25
It will take a village: incentivising uptake
Regenerative agriculture demands a huge cultural change at ground level. Adoption of new practices depends on financial and technical support that not only helps implement and measure new practices but also compensates for short-term losses and risks.
“People like to do things the way they’ve always done them,” says Mark Isbell.
“But with the appropriate incentives and with the clarity that there can be success from those activities, then you will see adoption.” Timestamp 23:02
“But it’s going to take a partnership. It is going to require the entire supply chain… to make sure that there’s shared value and there’s shared rewards and that in the end we all benefit from these projects.” Timestamp 30:27
We cannot wait for consumer demand
Although younger consumers are increasingly concerned about food sourcing, the mass market has yet to show business that there is much demand for regeneratively farmed products.
However, for Robbert de Vreede, there is no time to wait. The time to scale up is now.
“In all honesty we can’t wait for consumer demand, before we start to scale regenerative agriculture,” he says. “The majority of consumers today are not aware of what regenerative agriculture is and why it matters.” Timestamp 27:03
“But I think the real thing that will help us to accelerate demand and supply is that we work together as an industry with governments and NGOs to educate on the importance and the value of regenerative agriculture and to make it eventually stand out and get more breadth on shelves.” Timestamp 27:53
With regenerative agriculture transformation and innovation requiring long-term financing, the Unilever Climate & Nature Fund, AXA Climate and Tikehau Capital are coming together to explore the idea of an investment tool that will help accelerate the shift.
Knorr’s plan for 50 regenerative agriculture projects is predicted to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water use by an estimated 30% while improving biodiversity, soil health and livelihoods.