Transforming global food systems
We're working with others to transform food systems for the better. Sustainable agriculture can make a critical difference to many of the world's most pressing challenges, including hunger and food insecurity, poverty, and climate change.
Unlocking the potential of food – and farmers
More food is needed if we are to feed 9 billion people in 2050
The world needs to increase food production by 60% to feed a population that could reach 9 billion people by 2050. But scarce resources, environmental degradation and a changing climate are all putting strains on agricultural productivity and threatening food security.
At the same time, millions of people involved in food production are held back from achieving their full potential. The farmers working on the world's estimated 500 million smallholdings face a range of systemic challenges that prevent them increasing their yields and improving their livelihoods.
To a progressive food business like ours, these issues present a commercial as well as humanitarian imperative – because we depend on a supply of sustainably sourced, nutritious ingredients, many of which come from farms and forests.
So we believe global food systems have to change, to better serve farmers and their communities, the planet, and the people who buy our brands.
How will that change be achieved? We think the widespread adoption of sustainable agriculture will be transformative.
What are we calling for?
We think there has to be a change in the nature of farming – and that the process of change will bring enormous opportunities. We advocate a move away from purely production-led approaches, which run at the expense of people and planet. In their place, we want to see more integrated, holistic approaches – ones that both improve livelihoods for farmers and enable sustainable agriculture.
Sustainable agriculture has the potential to help address some of the world's biggest challenges. It can play a vital role in ending hunger, tackling climate change and protecting life on land – aims at the heart of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2, 13 and 15. But sustainable sourcing has wider impacts too by making a contribution to ending poverty (SDG 1), quality education (SDG 4) and decent work and economic growth (SDG 8). And none of these ambitions can be achieved without partnerships (SDG 17) to drive collaborative action.
Transforming an industry takes collective action
We're committed to sourcing our agricultural raw materials sustainably. We've been working with our suppliers and farmers for more than 20 years to drive up standards in our supply chain. But transforming an entire sector is not something any single business can do alone. The systemic changes that are needed will only come about through concerted action by a range of partners, and through committed advocacy.
Making food & agriculture a global priority
Of world greenhouse gas emissions are generated by food and land use systems1
We want the debate on food and agriculture to be high on the political and business agenda. We co-founded the Business Commission for Sustainable Development (BCSD) in January 2016. It brought together businesses and other stakeholders who share our belief that implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals would help create a world where responsible business can continue to thrive. The same year, we contributed to the BCSD report Valuing the SDG Prize in Food and Agriculture, which found that achieving food security could create 80 million jobs and unlock 14 major business opportunities worth $2.3 trillion annually by 2030.
To help unlock this potential, we supported the World Business Council (WBCSD) and EAT partnership launched at the EAT Stockholm Food Forum in June 2016. This global initiative seeks to accelerate the transformation towards a healthy and sustainable global food system, and will bring together stakeholders across science, business, government and civil society to form science-based targets for the food system – and develop scalable business solutions to achieve those targets.
In 2018 the Business Commission for Sustainable Development closed its doors, leaving a number of legacy organisations to continue key strands of its work. One of these is The Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU). FOLU aims to define, co-ordinate and accelerate the transformation of foods and land use systems – in short, to transform these broken systems, and to do it at speed and scale while creating new economic value.
These systems need to protect and ultimately regenerate natural resources, become a carbon sink rather than a carbon contributor, feed 9 billion people in a healthier, less wasteful way, and provide a more prosperous and resilient lifestyle for farmers.
FOLU was launched in 2017, bringing together an alliance of around 30 progressive businesses, forward-thinking policy makers, foundations, investors, academics, international organisations and members of civil society to act as a flywheel for transformative change. We are one of its founder members and part of its management team.
Breaking the link between deforestation & agriculture
- 1.6 bn
People worldwide depend on forests
Deforestation contributes up to 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions – and the principal driver of deforestation is commercial agriculture. As populations grow and their demand for key commodities increases, so does the pressure on forests.
Yet forests are essential for life on earth – and to the future of agriculture. They sustain the livelihoods of 1.6 billion people who depend on them for food, medicines and fuel. They help regulate our climate and are invaluable reserves of biodiversity.
Together with others in our industry, we have committed to achieving zero net deforestation associated with four commodities – palm oil, soy, paper and board, and beef – no later than 2020. We have extended this commitment to our tea businesses and supply chains. 'No deforestation' is one of the five key areas identified in our Sustainable Agriculture Code, which we updated in 2017. To find out more about the Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code, see Our sustainable agriculture programme.
A particular focus is on palm oil sourcing, where we can use our scale to make a difference. As the world’s largest single buyer of palm oil, we cannot countenance this essential commodity being a source of deforestation and exploitation. Our key business objective is therefore to assure that we have affordable access to sustainably sourced palm oil for the long term.
Working with partners in our industry & beyond
In 2010, we obtained a commitment to zero deforestation by 2020 by the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF). CGF comprises 400 members, including all the world’s major consumer goods manufacturers, retailers and service providers.
At a multi-sectoral level, we co-founded the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil in 2004 and the Round Table on Responsible Soy in 2006. We have also led the foundation of the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 (TFA), a public-private partnership between CGF and governments of the US, UK, Netherlands, Norway, Indonesia and Liberia. TFA is committed to reducing, and eventually eliminating, deforestation associated with the sourcing of palm oil, soy, beef, pulp and paper.
The Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform
The Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform (SAI Platform), which we co-founded with Nestlé and Danone in 2002, brings together around 90 companies from the food and beverage industry to communicate and build knowledge on sustainable agriculture.
The SAI Platform launched the world’s first industry-aligned Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA) of sustainable agriculture practices in 2014. The agreed set of assessment criteria for farmers meets the sustainable sourcing needs of many companies. Any farmer can complete the assessment online and it can be used for most crop types, farm sizes and locations around the world.
Smallholders: at the heart of transformation
Of the food produced in Asia & sub-Saharan Africa comes from smallholders
Smallholders are an essential part of the global food system, producing around 80% of the food in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. They are among the groups with most to gain from, and contribute to, the transformation opportunity presented by sustainable agriculture.
Our aim is to enhance the livelihoods of more than 500,000 smallholders in our supply chain through partnerships which focus on the themes of nutrition, women, WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene), and finance, as well as encouraging agricultural entrepreneurs and sustainable agriculture.
Tackling food waste
Of the world’s food is wasted
Around a third of the food produced worldwide never gets eaten. Reducing that waste is an opportunity to address food insecurity and reduce the environmental impact of food production.
We are working to reduce wasted food in our value chain through innovation, design and outreach – but tackling the issue at scale requires a global approach.
We helped to shape the Consumer Goods Forum resolution on Food Waste, which commits to halving food waste by 2025 in retail and manufacturing operations, as well as supporting food waste reduction at consumer level and across supply chains. Our work in this area is described in Reducing food loss & waste.