Mars Incorporated joins key sustainable farming project for Asian palm oil and cocoa markets

The global Mars, Incorporated group has joined with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), for a five-year research-in-development project, Sustainable Farming in Tropical Asian Landscapes (SFITAL), and World Agroforestry, (ICRAF) to support small-scale Indonesian and Philippines palm oil and cocoa producers.

As the business noted, it is aiming to explore environmentally sustainable ways to create greater links for farming communities to global supply chains, given that many of the world’s 500 million farmers living in poverty, as well as facing disruption from a number of major issues. These include climate change, increasing demand for food from growing populations, and degrading agricultural and natural landscapes.

The collaboration started this month and is supported financially and on the ground by IFAD, Mars and ICRAF through an investment of approximately $4 million.

Small-scale producers nevertheless produce much of the planet’s food. They therefore need to be at the forefront of any transformation of our food systems. SFITAL aims to explore how agricultural systems can be managed sustainably in entire landscapes in a way that respects the environment and enables the producers to thrive.

“This agreement heralds a significant step in the transition to more sustainable food systems,” said Tony Simons, director-general of ICRAF. “We anticipate that millions of small-scale producers, consumers and the global climate system will benefit enormously from research in development of the tropical agricultural landscapes.”

SFITAL will focus on palm oil in Indonesia and cocoa in Indonesia and the Philippines. These raw materials are major sources of livelihoods of those living in rural communities who rely on them for employment and business opportunities, yet they are cultivated in areas facing environmental threats, ranging from water stress to deforestation.

“IFAD is committed to supporting small-scale producers to improve the sustainability and profitability of their farms through better practices, and this grant does that,” said Fabrizio Bresciani, IFAD’s regional economist, Asia and the Pacific. “Together with ICRAF and Mars, we will promote better farm management, lower transactional costs and higher production standards. We will establish innovative traceability systems so small-scale producers can participate in highly profitable and sustainable cocoa and palm-oil value chains.”

The challenges facing small-scale producers in tropical regions are numerous. Climate change and poverty, slow or unresponsive governance systems with little interconnectivity, environmentally unfriendly infrastructure, social conflict and limited access to financing mechanisms contribute to unattractive risk environments for investors.

“Mars has a responsibility to the millions of small-scale producers in our value chains,” said Barry Parkin, chief procurement and sustainability officer. “And for many of these producers, meeting sustainability standards that are required for access to global markets is incredibly costly. We believe this landscape approach will demonstrate environmentally and socially viable models for more effectively integrating small-scale producers into global supply chains. We need thriving farmers in our collective supply chains to build a safer, more resilient food system for the long term.”

In this context, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 17 (Partnerships for the Goals) is of paramount importance. SFITAL brings together public, private and research communities to tackle the complex challenges faced by small-scale producers. Through this partnership, SFITAL aims to advance other critical Goals, including Goal 2 on Zero Hunger, Goal 12 on Responsible Consumption and Production, and Goal 15 on Life on Land.

A collaborative effort by governments, industry, non-governmental organisations and others is needed to co-design and implement with small-scale producers new ways of operating. To address these complex challenges, SFITAL will draw on experience in the two countries with the two raw materials to Enhance both environmental and social management systems and/or production standards in whole landscapes to meet sustainability and strategic positioning in the global market;  Increase participation of small-scale producers in value chains based on sustainably sourced raw materials; Expand the global scale of sustainable value chains of the two raw materials through strengthening enabling environments by inclusive involvement of local governments and others; and  Generate and promote learning through integrated and effective knowledge and project management.

The progress of the project will be watched closely by governments, development agencies, farmers’ associations and the private sector. The SFITAL team encourages more multi-sectoral collaboration to help expand the scale of sustainable farming, ensuring the swift transformation of the world’s food systems.

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