Emmanuel Faber: “We cannot build a sustainable food business without sustainable agriculture”


This year, the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform will be 10 years old. Emmanuel Faber, Deputy General Manager of Danone, explains how the initiative was born and what issues it must address for the future.


The Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform is a non-profit “food industry organization aiming to support the development of sustainable agriculture, involving food chain stakeholders”. It was created by Danone, Nestlé and Unilever in 2002 in order to facilitate sharing of knowledge and initiatives to support sustainable agriculture practices, while developing a productive, competitive and efficient way to produce agricultural goods. Today, it has over 40 members* and is still the only global food industry initiative for sustainable agriculture.

Here are a few words that Emmanuel Faber, Deputy General Manager of Danone, shared at the 10th anniversary of the SAI Platform, which was celebrated in Evian from 2 to 4 May.


A crucial issue for the future


“The question of sustainability in agriculture is absolutely crucial for the food industry. Over the past 50 years we have built a system that has delivered a large quantity of food to a growing number of people, with, overall, significantly enhanced food safety. But if we look at things going forward, there is no doubt that we need to rethink the sustainability of our model. Feeding 7 billion people is a different story to feeding 5, and feeding 9 will be a different story again. This, in a nutshell, sums up the entire sustainability question.”


An inclusive approach


“Ten years ago, Danone, Nestlé and Unilever started the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative as a way to address the question of sustainability in the food industry because we are absolutely convinced that the food business has a critical role – even though it may not be absolutely aware of that role – to play in how it transforms the upstream part of the business. We cannot build a sustainable food business without sustainable agriculture upstream. This is the SAI’s fundamental goal: to ensure that more and more food industry players become aware of the issues that are embedded in their business models, in the food chain related to agriculture. The purpose is really to share this awareness, share the knowledge and progress, as an industry, in our ability to manage the upstream issues that we do not necessarily see on a day-to-day basis.”


Challenges to face


“Several approaches to achieve a sustainable model must be considered. Danone’s one would be to say that sustainability deals with the economic, social, nutritional and natural issues that are embedded in agriculture. Addressing these challenges together is critical, because we have designed the food chain as a sum of large entities which, to some extent, have been desynchronized – essentially because of the economies of scale that we have reached in the various steps of the transformation from agriculture to food. So, the essence of sustainability is to work out how we resynchronize each of these steps, working backwards and yet understanding how the four parameters that I mentioned (economic, social, nutritional and natural – ed.) will be influenced. And how do we manage and govern the way each of these parameters contributes to creating a different model of agriculture? The geographic, social and cultural realities are so different, from India to China, from Europe to the US or Latin America, etc., that there cannot be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. One of the key challenges, then, is to work with the appropriate level of granularity on these issues.”


Danone’s mission for sustainability


“Danone is executing this sustainability agenda for agriculture based on our core mission, set 40 years ago by our chairman, Antoine Riboud, which is to bring health through food to as many people as possible, and with a clear, dual economic and social agenda. Consequently, we have created initiatives and policies that match this agenda. One of the latest ones is the Danone fund for the Ecosystem, which is working on capacity building for our farmers. But there are many other initiatives, and I think each SAI member has its own way of interpreting this demand for sustainability.”


How SAI members transform agriculture


“It is critical that SAI members are engaged on the path to sustainable agriculture, simply because we are, because of the size of our businesses, the ones that are transforming it. Our cumulated sales amount to 500 billion euros… this shows the level of impact that we can have if we work together on organizing this agenda. It means that without us, things will not change in the same way. We definitely have a role to play, we can point the way for the rest of the industry.”

You can watch the video made to celebrate the 10 years of the SAI platform here: http://www.saiplatform.org/videos.

* The members of the SAI Platform are: Anglo Beef Processors, Agrarfrost, Agroterra, Arla, Aviko, Barilla, Bord Bia, Cayuga Marketing, CIO Parma, Coca-Cola, Danone, DeLaval, EISA, Farm Frites, Fonterra, Friesland Campina, General Mills, GFRAS, Heineken, illycaffè, Inalca, Innovations Center US Dairy, Kellogg’s, Kraft Foods, Lamb Weston – Meijer, Land O’Lakes, LMC, Mars, McCain, McDonald’s, McKey, Nestlé, Novus, OSI, PepsiCo, QMS, Sara Lee, Tchibo, Unilever and Vion.

(Photo: screenshot from http://www.popscreen.com)

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