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How a strong shared sense of purpose can help companies succeed

This is an excerpt from “Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire” by Rebecca Henderson. Copyright 2020 by Rebecca Henderson. Reprinted by permission of Perseus Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group Inc, New York, N.Y. All rights reserved. The above is an affiliate link and we may get a small commission if you purchase from the site.

Purpose in practice

The way in which the combination of mission and the nature of work plays out in practice to support both architectural innovation and the generation of great jobs can be seen particularly clearly at King Arthur Flour (KAF), the oldest flour company in the United States. KAF’s best-selling product, the 5-pound bag of unbleached, all-purpose flour, is not a sexy product, and the market has been shrinking for years. Fewer and fewer people bake, and more and more flour is bought online, where brands often carry little weight. But KAF is thriving. Its customers love the company. KAF has over a million likes on Facebook and more than 375,000 followers on Instagram. (For comparison, General Mills, the current market leader with $3.9 billion in sales in “meals and baking,” compared to KAF’s roughly $140 million, has about 85,000 likes on Facebook and 3,000 Instagram followers.) Sales are growing in the high single digits annually — an unheard of growth rate for a commodity product in a 200-year-old industry.

KAF’s purpose is to “to build community through baking,” and the three co-CEOs (!) have a very clear sense of just why and how home baking can make a difference in the world. Karen Colberg, the chief brand officer and one of the co-CEOs told me:

Baking uniquely enables people to unplug. And as a mother of three teenagers, I’m constantly in this mode of wanting connection with my family and spending time together. And what we offer people is the ability to come together and do something.

Ralph Carlton, co-CEO and chief financial officer, put it this way:

When you think of baking as opposed to food, you give people gifts. The emotional connection people have, the notion of the smell of fresh baked bread, there’s something unique about baking that brings people together. And that inspires us … [E]verything we do is centered around the baking experience.

Suzanne McDowell, co-CEO and vice president of human resources, added:

Well, everyone can bake. So if you just start there, and you think about how baking can level the playing field — it doesn’t matter how smart you are, or how wealthy you are, or any of the things that separate us: We can all come together and bake together. And spending time with people, baking and learning a life skill, no matter whether you are young or old, can be a remarkably unifying experience. You can bake with family, coworkers and neighbors. Baking is an amazing opportunity to build community. And we need community building. It’s really important in our world, always has been, always will be.

As in the case of Aetna, the passionate embrace of this purpose has enabled KAF to identify a strategy that is classically architectural. KAF no longer thinks of itself as selling only white flour — instead it is selling an experience, and supporting its customers in becoming great bakers. In Ralph’s words:

One of the challenges of baking, but one of the great things about baking, is to bake well you do need knowledge. And often you need inspiration. Very few people bake without reaching for a recipe or some other guidance. And baking is not that forgiving. It isn’t like cooking, where you just go in there, and it doesn’t matter what you do, something relatively good comes out. In baking, you have failure. [So] we started providing information on the web. And it has really grown from it being a small part of what we do to us being one of the leading sources of knowledge and inspiration for bakers around the country right now.

And that’s a core piece of our strategy … We’re making a big bet that future generations of bakers, when they have to choose products, are going to choose the products from companies where they learn the most from and they trust the most. And it’s not going to be because I barked at you and told you to go buy King Arthur. It’s going to be because we had a great recipe, or we taught you a technique that you value very highly … [because] King Arthur is really a company that cares about me and cares about baking and cares about quality.

This strategy is enabled by a deeply participative, fully empowered workforce that embraces it as a reason for working that extends far beyond a paycheck — and that makes it immensely difficult to imitate. KAF’s Vermont headquarters — now a major tourist attraction — includes a retail store, where visitors can watch baking demonstrations and sample baked goods (made with KAF products, of course) and a baking school, where hundreds of passionate bakers arrive to take classes from King Arthur’s master bakers. The company also offers online recipes and baking classes, and a fully staffed baking hotline, where customers can get answers to their baking questions from employees with thousands of hours of baking experience. Everyone is passionate about baking. Everyone goes the extra mile to help the company succeed. The latest financial results are shared with every employee, and everyone is offered training on how to read income statements and balance sheets. The company is very careful about the people it hires, and then equally careful about how they are treated.

Karen expands:

The culture is a very present part of the hiring process. So when we meet people, and we talk about coming to work for King Arthur Flour, we talk about it being participatory. We talk about it being collaborative. But what does that mean? I want people to show up and feel accountable for themselves, accountable to their teams, and to have a clear understanding of what they’re supposed to be doing. Also to be comfortable that they can challenge what it is they’re doing and challenge what others are doing. And ask us questions so we have a really productive dialogue around issues such as: Where’s the company going? Why did you decide to do that? Did you think about this?

Ralph adds the following:

It’s a culture where people reach inside themselves to do the right thing. Karen often gives the example, during our holiday season when business is crazy and we’re sending thousands and thousands of packages out of our distribution center every day. Word spreads around the building that there’s too much work down in Pick and Pack and the team needs help. And people just do it, they come downstairs to lend a hand, and not because the boss tells them to.

Suzanne also commented on the positive work environment:

People are engaged. They’re proud of our products. They are in it together. It’s not like you’re siloed, and here I am in my space. I’m going to do my job — it has no impact or effect on you. In fact (your job) has a lot of impact and effect on everyone. It’s fun. We love to celebrate. We love to bake. We generally are pretty psyched about coming to work every day.

KAF’s competitive success is thus intimately linked to its willingness to empower its workforce — and this empowerment in turn means not only that it’s fun to work at KAF but that the company can pay over the odds and offer employees who vest a chance to build retirement savings. (KAF is a completely employee-owned company, which has potentially important implications.)

Creating a strong shared sense of purpose in a relatively small firm like King Arthur Flour is one thing. Can it be implemented in much larger organizations? It can.

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Where is capitalism headed?

This is an excerpt from “Green Swans: The Coming Boom in Regenerative Capitalism” by John Elkington (Fast Company Press, April 2020). Published here with permission from the author. The above is an affiliate link and we may get a small commission if you purchase from the site.

So what is a ‘Green Swan’?

The Green Swan is a symbol of radically better times to come. It’s also a template for exponential change toward the distant goal of a sustainable future for all. Getting from here to there will be no trivial task, however. Times of disruptive change upend market and political pecking orders, creating political shock waves that can last for decades — even generations.

As a decade, meanwhile, the 2020s do not yet seem to have sticky branding like the “Noughties” or the “Teens,” but they will, and that branding will likely reflect a period of exponential change. The Exponential Twenties? To paraphrase Dickens, this will be the worst of times for those clinging to the old order, yet potentially the best of times for those embracing and driving the new. Buckle your safety belt.

This book, my 20th, has had an unusually long genesis. It has morphed and mutated considerably along the way. You can expect an often personal account of a learning journey that has taken me around the world and, at times, deep into the future. It’s an investigation, an exploration, not a definitive, unified field theory. It is intended as the beginning of a conversation, not the end.

[…]

Recent discussion of the financial impact of climate chaos as a “Green Swan” is to mislabel a “Black Swan.” Instead, here is what I mean when I say “Green Swans”:

A Green Swan is a profound market shift, generally catalysed by some combination of Black or Gray Swan challenges and changing paradigms, values, mind-sets, politics, policies, technologies, business models and other key factors. A Green Swan delivers exponential progress in the form of economic, social and environmental wealth creation. At worst, it achieves this outcome in two dimensions while holding the third steady. There may be a period of adjustment where one or more dimensions underperform, but the aim is an integrated breakthrough in all three dimensions.

Green Swans are extraordinary — in the sense of out-of-the-ordinary forms of progress — driven and shaped by positive exponentials. In a counterintuitive pairing, they often rise phoenixlike out of the ashes left by Black Swans. Think of the way the natural world can recover and flourish after a volcano erupts or after destructive fishing pressure is removed. However, generally Green Swans are less likely to take us by surprise, as we typically have to plan for and work toward them over a considerable period of time.

[…]

Where is capitalism headed?

My assumption in researching this book has been that the world is headed into some sort of historic U-bend, well beyond a single, normal recession, where the established macroeconomic and political order goes down the tubes, and new ones surface. As we head deeper into the bottom of the U-bend, we enter a period of maximum confusion and uncertainty. Historically, too, this is often the point at which major wars occur.

In the process, established ideologies and mind-sets are coming under intense pressure — among them capitalism, democracy and sustainability (a concept I helped launch decades back). What follows is an investigation into the complex interplay of all three ideologies. In retrospect, I have been on a learning journey that has taken decades to date and, in some ways, feels as if it is only just beginning.

All three concepts — capitalism, democracy and sustainability — represent fiercely contested territory. Don’t talk about capitalism, I was advised. It triggers visceral, uncontrollable reactions. True, though such reactions can take people in very different directions. Talk to some climate activists and you are told that capitalism can do nothing but harm. But talk to some Americans, even those abused by that country’s most exploitative forms of capitalism, and many will tolerate no criticism of “their” system — even when it does them little discernible good.

Such positions, quasi-religious in their reliance on faith over evidence, serve as a red-flag warning that we are stepping into a giant minefield. Still, the ways in which capitalism, democracy and sustainability interact, for good or ill, is our subject here. The timing is particularly interesting, given that even some leading capitalists are now increasingly critical of today’s capitalist system, while many democratic leaders are warning that democracies are at greater risk than at any time since the 1930s.

Capitalism is partly in the spotlight because it has embedded pernicious forms of myopia in our economies, which now threaten to crash the global biosphere. These problems were massively accentuated by neoliberalism. Yet our default setting, neoliberal or not, is to deny the very possibility of collapse, as professor Jem Bendell argues. Denial, however, cannot mask the pace at which we are destabilizing the climate, unraveling the web of life, acidifying the oceans and creating teeth-rattling wealth divides. Indeed, the evidence suggests that the next decade, the 2020s, will see flocks of those proverbial chickens coming home to roost — with the prevailing scientific and economic paradigms shifting at unprecedented speed.

[…]

And what about the Triple Bottom Line recalled in 2018?

Meanwhile, for anyone still wondering whatever happened to the triple bottom line, that recall process was part of my own reinvention process. I am now more than happy that it be used, so long as it operates on three of the five levels outlined in Chapter 4: Responsibility (where most current practice clusters), Resilience (where too little effort yet focuses) and Regeneration (where the spotlight must now shift). Ultimately, any true Green Swan will help — simultaneously — to regenerate the natural, social and economic worlds. An existentially taxing, civilizational task. But we have left ourselves no alternative.

The upside is that, for the foreseeable future, this will be by far the biggest opportunity for adventure, growth and evolution in the tightly coupled stories of humankind, capitalism and our home planet, Earth.

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A clarion call for inventors and investors

This is an excerpt from “Hacking Planet Earth: How Geoengineering Can Help Us Reimagine the Future” by Thomas Kostigen, published March 24 by TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright 2020 by Thomas Kostigen. When Edward Jenner in 1796 developed the first human vaccine (for …

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How to build a flood resilient future

Seven of the United Kingdom’s 10 wettest years on record have occurred since 1998. Its wettest winter in history came in 2013, and the next wettest in 2015. In a single week in November, 400 homes were flooded and 1,200 properties evacuated in northern England. The frequency and severity of these events is expected to …

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How Main Street Project creates healthier farms and stable economics for farmers

Food Fix book coverExcerpted from “Food Fix,” copyright 2019 by Mark Hyman M.D. Used with permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York.  All rights reserved.

In a room full of cowboy hats, Regi Haslett-Marroquin cuts a contrasting figure. As the native Guatemalan takes the stage to address the hundreds of farmers and ranchers who have gathered in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the 2018 Regenerate conference, his humble brilliance electrifies the room. “We are not food producers,” he says, softly smiling at his paradoxical challenge. “We are energy managers.”

Regi is one of the architects of the Main Street Project (MSP), a poultry-centered regenerative agroforestry system that aims to equip farmers to solve our nation’s food crisis. It’s not enough to just blame Big Ag, he says; we need to create new ways of thinking and doing when it comes to food production.

MSP starts with a regenerative farming model that is built not on a nearsighted drive toward maximum profit, but on a triple bottom line. Agriculture must be ecologically, economically and socially viable.

Regi says their methods are informed by indigenous knowledge, supplemented by farmers’ own experiential learning and validated by scientific testing. When he tells the story of chicken, he speaks of their origin as jungle fowl, living under the canopies of forests. This origin is a long way from the cages of today’s factory farms. Regi and MSP are designing a system that mimics this origin by raising chickens in food forests that produce the food sources that the chickens eat. MSP’s free-range poultry are raised in paddocks planted with a “stacking function” combination. This type of farming is called “silvopasture,” or raising animals in forests or trees. Hazelnut trees provide shade, food for the chickens and an additional source of income from selling the nuts. And the trees protect the chickens from aerial predators such as hawks. Cover crops like legumes, along with the manure from the chickens, help to put nitrogen into the soil. A variety of grains grown on-site provide more chicken feed, which reduces the amount of money farmers have to spend on outside feed sources. The chickens also eat tons of insects. The farm is built as a living ecosystem, and Regi jokes that it’s easier to work with nature rather than fight it.

With their quick growth, chickens, whether for meat or eggs, provide a positive revenue stream at a low cost of entry. Think of this type of farming as a mutual fund versus an individual stock. There are multiple crops, livestock, and multiple streams of revenue, creating a healthier farm and more stable economics for the farmers. Chickens are at the center of MSP’s system because they work so well with the crops, farmers, and environment. They are a “one-stop weed-eating, bug-killing, soil-enhancing replacement for the counter-productive synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers destroying conventional farms and their communities.” This type of agriculture diversified, intensive, integrating animals, trees, and plants in a natural ecological restorative cycle is resilient and low impact, protects and builds soils, conserves water, and draws down carbon from the atmosphere, all while producing healthy, nutrient-dense food.

This is quite a contrast to the factory-farmed horror that is the majority of American chicken production: massive buildings where thousands of chickens are crammed into cages, are fed imported grain and antibiotics, and pollute the environment. Tyson Foods dumped 104 million pounds of pollutants into waterways, more than Exxon, and is the second-biggest industrial polluter after Big Steel. Which chicken would you prefer to feed your family? The antibiotic- and arsenic-laced industrial chickens? Eggs that are pale yellow, devoid of nutrients? Or forest- and bug-fed chickens, and eggs with deep orange yolks dense in phytochemicals and nutrients?

MSP helps farmers incubate their own enterprises with a goal of developing regional food systems. They are building a poultry-production system that can also help immigrant communities move from laboring in an exploitative system to owning a small business. At the same time, the community benefits from the increased access to local, healthy food and the economic boost of thriving local markets. After years proving their concept, MSP is expanding from their central farm into a regional cluster of farms in southeast Minnesota. Their blueprint is also being applied to partner farms in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and South Dakota. Everybody wins when the goal is regenerating human and environmental health rather than simply extracting a profit at any cost. If the true costs of food production were included in the price, these methods would provide much cheaper food.

Regi’s story is one thread in an expanding tapestry of regenerative agricultural innovation that is occurring across the world. Efforts are underway to convert millions of acres of land to these types of integrated regenerative farms and ranches. While this innovation has developed on the margins, it’s making its way to the mainstream. General Mills, one of the nation’s largest food companies, has pledged to “advance regenerative agricultural practices” on 1 million acres of farmland by 2030. That’s a huge step in the right direction. Other companies such as Danone and Nestlé are also committing to shift their supply chain to regenerative agriculture. Purdue Farms has also responded to consumer demand by removing all antibiotics from their chicken farms, and shifting toward more organic, regenerative and pasture-raised animal farming.

Source: GreenBiz.com
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How Main Street Project creates healthier farms and stable economics for farmers

Food Fix book coverExcerpted from “Food Fix,” copyright 2019 by Mark Hyman M.D. Used with permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York.  All rights reserved.

In a room full of cowboy hats, Regi Haslett-Marroquin cuts a contrasting figure. As the native Guatemalan takes the stage to address the hundreds of farmers and ranchers who have gathered in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the 2018 Regenerate conference, his humble brilliance electrifies the room. “We are not food producers,” he says, softly smiling at his paradoxical challenge. “We are energy managers.”

Regi is one of the architects of the Main Street Project (MSP), a poultry-centered regenerative agroforestry system that aims to equip farmers to solve our nation’s food crisis. It’s not enough to just blame Big Ag, he says; we need to create new ways of thinking and doing when it comes to food production.

MSP starts with a regenerative farming model that is built not on a nearsighted drive toward maximum profit, but on a triple bottom line. Agriculture must be ecologically, economically and socially viable.

Regi says their methods are informed by indigenous knowledge, supplemented by farmers’ own experiential learning and validated by scientific testing. When he tells the story of chicken, he speaks of their origin as jungle fowl, living under the canopies of forests. This origin is a long way from the cages of today’s factory farms. Regi and MSP are designing a system that mimics this origin by raising chickens in food forests that produce the food sources that the chickens eat. MSP’s free-range poultry are raised in paddocks planted with a “stacking function” combination. This type of farming is called “silvopasture,” or raising animals in forests or trees. Hazelnut trees provide shade, food for the chickens and an additional source of income from selling the nuts. And the trees protect the chickens from aerial predators such as hawks. Cover crops like legumes, along with the manure from the chickens, help to put nitrogen into the soil. A variety of grains grown on-site provide more chicken feed, which reduces the amount of money farmers have to spend on outside feed sources. The chickens also eat tons of insects. The farm is built as a living ecosystem, and Regi jokes that it’s easier to work with nature rather than fight it.

With their quick growth, chickens, whether for meat or eggs, provide a positive revenue stream at a low cost of entry. Think of this type of farming as a mutual fund versus an individual stock. There are multiple crops, livestock, and multiple streams of revenue, creating a healthier farm and more stable economics for the farmers. Chickens are at the center of MSP’s system because they work so well with the crops, farmers, and environment. They are a “one-stop weed-eating, bug-killing, soil-enhancing replacement for the counter-productive synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers destroying conventional farms and their communities.” This type of agriculture diversified, intensive, integrating animals, trees, and plants in a natural ecological restorative cycle is resilient and low impact, protects and builds soils, conserves water, and draws down carbon from the atmosphere, all while producing healthy, nutrient-dense food.

This is quite a contrast to the factory-farmed horror that is the majority of American chicken production: massive buildings where thousands of chickens are crammed into cages, are fed imported grain and antibiotics, and pollute the environment. Tyson Foods dumped 104 million pounds of pollutants into waterways, more than Exxon, and is the second-biggest industrial polluter after Big Steel. Which chicken would you prefer to feed your family? The antibiotic- and arsenic-laced industrial chickens? Eggs that are pale yellow, devoid of nutrients? Or forest- and bug-fed chickens, and eggs with deep orange yolks dense in phytochemicals and nutrients?

MSP helps farmers incubate their own enterprises with a goal of developing regional food systems. They are building a poultry-production system that can also help immigrant communities move from laboring in an exploitative system to owning a small business. At the same time, the community benefits from the increased access to local, healthy food and the economic boost of thriving local markets. After years proving their concept, MSP is expanding from their central farm into a regional cluster of farms in southeast Minnesota. Their blueprint is also being applied to partner farms in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and South Dakota. Everybody wins when the goal is regenerating human and environmental health rather than simply extracting a profit at any cost. If the true costs of food production were included in the price, these methods would provide much cheaper food.

Regi’s story is one thread in an expanding tapestry of regenerative agricultural innovation that is occurring across the world. Efforts are underway to convert millions of acres of land to these types of integrated regenerative farms and ranches. While this innovation has developed on the margins, it’s making its way to the mainstream. General Mills, one of the nation’s largest food companies, has pledged to “advance regenerative agricultural practices” on 1 million acres of farmland by 2030. That’s a huge step in the right direction. Other companies such as Danone and Nestlé are also committing to shift their supply chain to regenerative agriculture. Purdue Farms has also responded to consumer demand by removing all antibiotics from their chicken farms, and shifting toward more organic, regenerative and pasture-raised animal farming.

Source: GreenBiz.com
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How to make ending factory farming irresistible, delicious and lucrative

This is an excerpt from “Grilled: Turning Adversaries into Allies to Change the Chicken Industry” by Leah Garcés. Copyright Leah Garcés, 2019. It is published here with permission from BLOOMSBURY SIGMA, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Grilled: Turning Adversaries into Allies to Change the Chicken Industry, book cover

At the other end of the investment spectrum from Liz [Dee] and Nick [Garin] is Coller Capital, founded in 1990 by Jeremy Coller and one of the world’s leading investors in the private equity secondary market. The firm is headquartered in London, with offices in New York and Hong Kong, and has assets under management of approximately $17 billion. As the firm’s chief investment officer, Jeremy Coller is not exactly a radical activist, and yet he is the visionary behind an organization known as FAIRR — Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return.

Rosie Wardle heads up FAIRR, which studies financial risks inherent in using animals for food. FAIRR focuses on environmental, social, and governance-based risks, including the threat of antibiotic resistance. FAIRR are interested in this because of how risky they believe livestock farming is, and, on the flip side, how lucrative alternative-protein investment is shaping up to be. 

When they first started FAIRR, Rosie and her team sat down to look at what external risk factors existed for investors with regard to the current protein-production model, which is animal agriculture. Like Michael [Pellman Rowland, a financial adviser], she was shocked by what she found: the current animal protein supply chain is exposed to 28 key external risks that can damage a company’s financial value.

“We’ve got things like animal welfare, we’ve got disease outbreaks, resource scarcity, worker mistreatment, climate change,” Rosie says. “There’s a whole slew of issues which have the potential to create financial risks for companies.” These are not necessarily new ideas for investors, but FAIRR are drawing attention to their importance in a new way.

“Most investors were cognizant of these issues, but they were not connecting them with the livestock industry, and were surprised about the breadth of the potential issues linked to this sector,” Rosie says. “They were connecting the dots on some of these things, but they didn’t realize the extent and how it all links back to this kind of livestock production. The other issue was that there was no clear guidance for what investors should do, because when you start thinking about those 28 risk factors, it seems overwhelming.”

FAIRR began to mobilize around these concerns to protect investors. Investors worth a total of $5.9 trillion and growing have signed up to FAIRR’s initiatives, all expressing concern about those 28 risk factors related to livestock production. FAIRR and its investors began writing to major businesses like Kroger, Walmart, and McDonald’s, arguing that it is a material risk to investors to rely solely on animal proteins within their supply chains. As investors, they asked these companies what their strategies were to address this risk.

They didn’t just point out the risk. “We made some suggestions around what the components of that strategy could be,” Rosie says, “whether it’s investing in plant-based proteins, developing own-brand products through internal R&D, or acquiring alternative protein companies and products. We are asking the companies to diversify their protein mix — thereby reducing the amount of animal proteins in the supply chain.”

When a company gets a letter from a large group of global investors worth almost $6 trillion, they listen. Rosie says FAIRR got responses from nearly all the companies they contacted. “Essentially, what we’re trying to do is raise awareness among investors about the impacts of the current supply chain,” she says.

Rosie, Liz, and Michael all see the investment space going in one direction: away from animal-protein production and toward plant-protein or clean meat. While they may be guided by a similar moral compass, at the end of the day they wouldn’t get very far on their path if they weren’t also guided by the bottom line.

Animal activists have made huge strides over the past two decades. We’ve passed laws in multiple states to ban the extreme confinement of farmed animals, persuaded hundreds of food companies to improve their animal-welfare policies, exposed factory farming in the world’s largest media publications, and increased awareness of vegan eating. But it hasn’t been enough to tip the scales of justice.

The sad reality is that most people aren’t going to change based on morality alone. For too long, animal advocates have assumed that if we just provide more information, if we can only get people to understand how bad the situation is, we will win them over. Shining a light on the problem is essential to changing a broken system, but it’s not enough. It has led to some exciting progress, but making animal-free food more delicious, more convenient, and more affordable could be the key to ending factory farming. That’s why I’m so inspired by business and food-science innovators asking new questions to instigate serious change.

Liz Dee started with a simple question: “How can I create the world I want and do good while still running my family business?” Rosie and Michael asked, “How can we avoid material risk while maximizing our investments?” Seth Goldman asked, “How can we make the most delicious burger out there?” But it was the absolutely fabulous Joanna Lumley who had perhaps the best advice: tempt, don’t bully. Make the choice irresistible, delicious, and lucrative. That way, no one can resist.

Source: GreenBiz.com
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How climate change has altered cocoa farming in Ivory Coast

This is an excerpt from “Rainforest: Dispatches From Earth’s Most Vital Frontlines” by Tony Juniper. Copyright 2019 by Tony Juniper. Reproduced here with permission of Island Press, Washington, D.C.

Conservation of the rainforests is far more likely to succeed when smallholders are empowered to do sustainable farming.

The large-scale loss of tropical rainforest can have dire impacts for local farmers — including the hundreds of millions of smallholders who, despite their poverty, produce more than half of the world’s food calories. This was brought home to me in 2016, when I visited Ivory Coast and traveled to the village of Asabliko, about 20 kilometers down a dusty mud track from Méagui. I had gone there to speak with farmers who, as well as food crops, produced the country’s biggest export commodity, cocoa. Tens of thousands of Ivory Coast farmers are employed in cocoa production and the country as a whole produces some 1.65 million tonnes per year — about a third of global supply.

Asabliko was surrounded by little plantations of cocoa trees, as was the rest of the landscape for miles around. The squat trees, cultivated to about 5 meters tall, were tended by farmers with just a couple of hectares each. The big pods bearing cocoa beans don’t grow on twigs like most other fruits on trees, but directly from the trunks and large branches. As we walked between the trees one of the farmers explained that when the pods turn yellow they are ready for harvest and that each yields about 40 beans, enough to make 50 grams of dark chocolate. Between the village huts, grass mats lay all about in the hot midday sun, covered with the reddish-brown beans being dried ready for bagging and shipping. Meantime, smoldering heaps of pods were being converted into charcoal to cook with.

As Ivory Coast’s population grew, so demand for land upon which to produce this vital cash crop intensified. Asabliko lay about 5 kilometers from the border of the Tai Forest National Park and the community is one of several hundred that will determine whether that last large area of intact rainforest will survive. Cocoa trees are tropical rainforest plants and their natural habitat is in the understory beneath a canopy of taller trees. Planting in the last areas of rainforest was thus quite an attractive prospect for land-hungry farmers.

Today cocoa is grown right around the world in the wet tropical regions close to the equator, with conditions in the rainforest belt of West Africa being particularly suitable — at least until quite recently. For over the past couple of decades the climate has been changing, with hot, bone-dry winds coming from the Sahara, unlike those which normally came from the sea bringing rains that are recycled back into the atmosphere by the dense coastal rainforests. This is not good for cocoa production.

I sat beneath the shade of a small wooden communal building with a group of 20 farmers. Coucals, hornbills and weaver birds chirped, cooed and chinked from nearby scrubby forest and big shady trees in the village. But the sense of rural tranquility was lost as soon as the farmers told me their stories. The area had been hit by drought of unprecedented severity and the soil fertility had seriously declined. Yields had been poor and had been hampered, one of the farmers added, by varieties of cocoa trees that were susceptible to disease. The farmers were all in agreement, though, that the main problem was the erratic rainfall. For the first time it hadn’t rained for four months. No one had seen that before, including the village chief, who was by far the oldest person there. Not only had this hit the cocoa harvest, but also the food the people grew to eat in their gardens around the village.

The farmers lived in a highly vulnerable situation. There was no river nearby from which to draw water for irrigation, and even if there was there wouldn’t be money to build the canals and pumps needed to harness it. Like hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers across the tropics, and especially in Africa, they relied on rain. The more erratic that became, as it was becoming across so much of the continent, the more precarious became their position.

I asked why they thought it had become so dry and they answered almost as one: “Because the forests have been cut down.” They knew, too, that it was the expansion of farming that had caused the deforestation. I asked what could be done.

“Plant more trees,” came one reply; “put the forests back,” added another. The farmers said that if they didn’t see improvements they wouldn’t be able to make a living and they’d have to leave, to seek work in Abidjan and other cities. Some of the younger ones might be tempted to head north and risk the journey across the Sahara toward Libya and from there to Europe across the Mediterranean.

One of the cocoa growers, Amani Kwasi Unzui, a man in his mid-50s, told me that he’d been in the cocoa business for 39 years. He said that he could once make a reasonable living, but now it was a real struggle. He had an unusually large holding, a third of a square kilometer of cocoa trees, but even with such a comparatively large farm he’d struggled to survive. He explained that when he’d started out as a cocoa farmer there was much more forest and it often rained three times a day. No longer. I asked why the forest had gone. “It’s because there is more farming, because there are more people.” As the cocoa farmers talked of the dry winds coming from the north and landward direction, how droughts were the result, and the impact of that on their livelihoods, it was hard not to reflect on how their local wisdom was being corroborated by new science on the role of rainforests in generating rain.

All the major rainforest regions are different in how their progressive clearance might affect regional and wider rainfall regimes, but climate modeling suggests that deforesting West Africa (a process largely complete in Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria) could reduce regional rainfall by 40 to 50 percent. With that in mind, one might expect that at the center of discussions about how to sustain food supply in face of rapid global change might be strategies to stop deforestation. As famines, drought-driven shortages and higher food prices have during the last decade led to more widespread hunger for the poorest people, the question of how to feed the 9-billion-plus global population expected by 2050 has been increasingly on the agenda. But, while the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has estimated that food output needs to rise by an estimated 70 percent by 2050 (PDF), compared with 2005 to 2007, little attention has been devoted to how such a vast increase in output must embrace a strategy that conserves and restores forests. It’s a strategy that would be wise to pursue in relation to energy security too.

Helping the cocoa communities

When I talked to officials at the Tai Forest National Park in Ivory Coast they told me that its successful preservation was not so much about enforcing that boundary that I’d walked along with armed security, but more livelihoods and education. These, they felt, were key to holding the rainforest front line. I recalled research on the relationship between female literacy and family size, and how data showed that when women were educated, they tended to have fewer children and better incomes. Out there by the forest, where people lived in grinding poverty and whose large families led to increasing demand for farmland, it seemed like a very logical priority. I was encouraged to find that this was the aspiration not just of the man responsible for a National Park but for the world’s largest chocolate company: Mondelēz, whose many brands include Cadbury’s, Côte d’Or and Toblerone.

In 2012 Mondelēz launched an initiative called Cocoa Life, through which it would invest some $400 million in supporting 200,000 of its cocoa farmers across the tropical rainforest countries of Ghana, Indonesia, India, the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Ivory Coast. In Ivory Coast $100 million was allocated to assist 75,000 people in cocoa-growing communities. In addition to support for education, farmers were helped to improve yields and earn higher incomes, while at the same time sustaining the landscape in which the cocoa was grown, including the remaining rainforests. The idea was to strengthen communities and thus make cocoa a more attractive business for young people. It was an attempt to implement a truly integrated agenda and there was a clear business case for doing it, even for a profit-driven multinational.

The company had realized that if in the years ahead there were fewer farmers wanting to grow cocoa, then the company’s chocolate business would be at risk. It would also face uncertainty and rising costs if deforestation led to the kind of long droughts that had recently caused yields to fall.

As well as major companies, the Ivory Coast government had an interest, for if cocoa declined as an export crop and a source of employment, then civil unrest could follow. Adoulaye told me that he was confident that the deeper and more fundamental pressures on the forests could be brought under control if only he could succeed in showing people the Park was for them, and not against them. He told me how, when he asked communities to join in with the conservation of the Park, they asked him, “What do we get?” One of the things he tells them they get, and which I found the cocoa farmers agreed with, was that the Park produces rain, and thus cocoa and income.

As I listened to Adoulaye, it was clear how the multinational company and National Park were actually trying to do the same thing: improve the well-being of the farmers. The Park gets its forest better protected and the company gets a more secure cocoa supply chain that is dependent on not only motivated and skillful growers, but also rain. Economy, people and forest all at once.

Source: GreenBiz.com
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