As the year comes to an end, I look back on the year Dinner series for small farmers launched in London in 2022 and the significance of its themes in the context of COP15.
We have had the honor of welcoming exciting and challenging guests throughout 2022 and look forward to our first dinner of 2023 in February. Our most recent dinner was attended by a small group of inspiring decision makers and practitioners from business (Innocent), non-profit organizations (Farm Africa, WWF, Anglo American Foundation & One Acre), academia (CISL) and the financial sector. (Agri3Fund). Our meeting was a welcome opportunity to relax and explore the challenges, insights and solutions impacting the achievement of Goal 13 (Climate Action) across smallholder value chains.
Making a case for climate change: “It’s all about social impact”
When the phrase the Triple Bottom Line was coined by John Elkington in 1999 in ‘Cannibals with Fork: The Triple Bottom Line of the 21st Century Business certainly felt it was a game-changer because we had a simple yet powerful framework to classify, assess and address ESG impacts. The concept of People, Planet, Profit entered our vocabulary and became second nature. While this helped frame and integrate our thinking, making the case for the planet, it was still a slow and frustrating process often attributed to the “Tragedy of the Commons.” I would also argue that this is partly because we have failed to translate the meaning of climate change into human or social terms. Climate change was and remains a fairly abstract concept for most. I wasn’t surprised when my fellow dinner guests suggested that climate change is actually a social issue and that we can go further and faster by referring to it as such. After all, some may not be moved to action by the threat of change in weather patterns, but may relate to the impact this has on food security, employment and human health. Putting this concept in the context of agricultural value chains, can we achieve greater impact by addressing the issue of how smallholder farmers can feed themselves (a social issue) rather than focusing on carbon?
Carbon data: “A necessity or excuse for inaction”
While the agricultural sector benefits from a growing affordable range of AI data capture solutions, much of the climate change and carbon story seems to focus on the challenges of data capture. There is abundant data, but in most cases it does not reach the first few kilometers. Some guests noted that this was due to a lack of investment in food value chains. Others pointed out the high price of collecting carbon data. However, is the lack of data an excuse to delay action? Good agricultural practices have been known for decades and the business case for their introduction should be simple enough. Is the lack of data what is really holding us back? How can we catalyze change as the science of carbon data capture becomes BAU?
The role of SMEs: “The missing middle”
While ESG is part of the landscape for large companies, this is often less the case for small and medium-sized businesses, which may not have the brand awareness or regulatory incentives to drive them to action. The collective power of SMEs has remained relatively untapped thus far. However, we can say that despite the difference in size, smaller players can put pressure on larger players. What can bigger players do to put pressure on the ‘missing middle’? I am often surprised to see how persuasive larger players are when it comes to price and quality negotiations, while they are more shy about entering into impact programs with their suppliers. The need to ‘get involved’ and ‘buy in’ is often proclaimed, leading us to think that the spirit of collaboration could grow along food value chains. What will it take before large companies can actually and effectively work with the missing middle to accelerate change?
Although our research focused on smallholder value chains, these would not have been out of place at COP15, where a landmark agreement aimed to protect 30% of land and 30% of coastal and marine areas by 2030. This makes me wonder if…
- Biodiversity might have the best chance of making it onto corporate, public and personal agendas if we communicated its value in social terms?
- We will learn from climate change and use data to drive progress, or let it become an excuse for inaction.
- We can find ways to engage the “missing middle,” take action, and achieve the 30 by 30 goal.
Let’s continue the conversation
Our next dinner planned for the 1st February 2023, will explore the challenges, insights and solutions impacting the delivery of Goal 5 (Equality between men and women) in smallholder value chains. Join us if you want to be part of the conversation (Cdelbe@ksapa.org).