As an agrofood company, Danone has an interest in agriculture being productive and competitive, and a responsibility to support agricultural practices that are respectful of the environment, consumer health and producers’ living and working conditions. This means that it has to find a way to combine both aspects. In other words, Danone supports competitive agriculture that creates social value, respects natural ecosystems and generates better nutritional balance. In its subsidiaries and everywhere in the world, the Group is thus developing the appropriate tools to help it meet that challenge. A new one is being tested right now, in the framework of a wider approach to sustainable agriculture with the support of the Danone Ecosystem Fund. The actions undertaken in this domain are specific in that they integrate resources from Danone, thanks to the expertise developed by the Group in dairy farming communities in many parts of the world, while supporting and cooperating with many external organizations.
A merger between two existing tools
In its quest for a better agricultural balance, Danone has defined its own compass. With its four axes: Nature, Economy, Well-Being and Social, it guides the group towards a holistic approach to agriculture, supporting innovation and improvements within the farms that need them.
But Danone, like other large companies, is noteworthy in that it works with a tremendous variety of milk suppliers. They vary in size (subsistence farms with less than 5 cows, medium farms with up to 300 cows and big farms with over 300 cows), geographical location, climate, history and habits, etc. The major principle that derives from this sounds simple: “No size fits all.” But it means that an accurate knowledge and understanding of each and every situation is required to identify and create the appropriate solutions.
This is why Danone has decided to combine two pre-existing tools.
. On one side, FaRMS (Farmer Relationship Management Software), an in-house programme developed since the 1990s to assess the farming practices that can affect food safety and milk quality, as well as environmental impacts and social conditions for workers, based on 70 criteria.
.And on the other side, RISE (The Response-Inducing Sustainability Evaluation), a method that “serves the holistic assessment of the sustainability of agricultural production at the level of the individual farm,” developed by the University of Bern (HAFL, Switzerland) in the late 1990s.
RISE’s modus operandi is as follows: first, it collects data about the farm, through a three-hour interview with the farmer based on a questionnaire. Then, the data is compiled and analysed against ten sustainability indicators: soil use / animal husbandry / nutrient flows (emissions, waste management, etc.) / water use / energy & climate / biodiversity & plant protection / working conditions / quality of life / economic viability / farm management.
These indicators cover the whole of Danone’s compass, making the RISE tool a powerful one for the Group. All ten indicators are then translated into a polygon through which the farm’s sustainability situation can be visualised at a glance. “The resulting figures are rated on a scale ranging from 0 (worst, centre of the polygon) to 100 (best, outer boundary of the polygon),” explains the University of Bern. The areas where the most improvement is needed can thus be identified: the tool helps in defining priorities. The finals steps are then to build a strategy with the farmers according to the results and to implement these measures at farm level. As Jan Grenz insists, the evaluation is “a differentiated farm analysis, not a pass-or-fail test that would lead to a certification.”
A testing phase that relies on cooperation and co-creation
The tool is now entering a testing phase in several pilot business units in Poland, France, Brazil, Germany, the United States and Indonesia. The aims for this testing phase are, firstly, to identify weaknesses both at farm level and within the business units’ territory, and secondly to set priorities in order to define any improvement plans. With this attempt at adapting the RISE tool, which has proven over the past twelve years to be pertinent and useful, Danone hopes to refine its take on sustainable agriculture, on a global scale but also at an ultra-local level. The philosophy of the RISE tool should help further approaches that are already important to Danone, such as dialogue and co-creation with farmers. As Mr Grenz puts it,
since RISE builds on a relationship of trust, and the analysis of social and economic sustainability involves the sharing of delicate information (…) by the farmer, confidentiality and voluntariness are key pillars of each RISE application.
Later on, the farmers are closely involved when the major calls for action are defined.
This experience with RISE shows one thing: sustainable agriculture pertains to long-term thinking and thus to farm strategy. (…) If a company like Danone embarks on the process of using RISE in their agricultural supplier network, this reflects an awareness of the long-term nature of sustainable agricultural development as well as a readiness to invest time and capacities into reliable and lasting relationships with farmers.
We will keep you posted on the results of the testing phase!