Sharing Responsibility to Create a More Equitable and Resilient Food System
We all feel it at some level. Our world’s supply chain is experiencing disruptions and price increases at every level. A well-functioning supply chain is how produce gets from farms to our tables. But a supply chain is just that—a chain. To keep it running properly, every link must perform its tasks, and despite significant advances in technology and logistics, adverse environmental and economic conditions can still present major challenges.
Our planet, the ground we grow our food in, is stretched to its limit. Temperatures are warming, natural disasters are increasing in strength and frequency, and climate patterns are becoming more unpredictable. Finding a way for agriculture and our global ecosystems to thrive together is imperative—the worlds’ population is expanding rapidly, forecasted to reach nearly 10 billion people by 2050. But we, as farmers, can’t do it alone. We can’t grow sustainably, and in a way that protects our planet, alone. And frankly, it shouldn’t be done in a vacuum.
We need everyone involved – farmers, processors, retailers, and consumers—to adopt the shared goal of creating a resilient global food system. We all must actively work toward that goal by investing in cutting-edge research, and supporting the farmers who feed our growing population. Farmers are expected to produce more with fewer resources and at the same prices year after year despite normal levels of inflation and increasingly challenging and unpredictable growing conditions. Without support, farmers cannot adopt novel growing practices and create breakthrough advancements that will help us reach the collective goal of building an equitable and sustainable food system.
As an agricultural producer, we know that our role in the global food system can have an impact on our planet. The global food system is one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss, as land developed for agriculture worldwide degrades and fragments wildlife habitats. And biodiversity loss isn’t the only impact the food system can impart. The system, which includes farmers (large and small), processers, retailers, and consumers is responsible for a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions1(Crippa, M., Solazzo, E., Guizzardi, D. et al,2021). The release of these emissions contributes to climate change, which has a devastating impact on both our global ecosystems, but also the health and wellbeing of people around the globe, affecting our basic human needs like clean air, safe water, sufficient food, and adequate shelter.
We must act collectively—as an industry and as a population— to chart a new path forward. Current research shows that we’re at a ‘tipping point’, and scientists time and time again emphasize that we’re not meeting the emissions reduction targets set out in the Paris Agreement to slow global climate change. It’s up to us, as human beings, to use all the tools at our disposal to protect our planet—it’s our home, it’s the source of our food and thus it’s what gives us life.
As a fully vertically integrated company, Fresh Del Monte continues to set ambitious, yet achievable goals and innovates on further efficiencies to reduce emissions and preserve surrounding ecosystems. We are working to expand the available tools for adapting our industry to climate change, and we know the challenge ahead will require us to boldly innovate to transform our industry.
It Starts at the Ground Level
Our agricultural production process starts on our farms, as we grow and harvest our fresh fruits and vegetables. Then, our products move to the packing house where they are inspected for quality and packaged for shipping. We then transfer the packaged produce to the port, ship it to its destination port, and pick it up there for further distribution. At our distribution centers, the produce is prepared for its final move to the stores, where consumers purchase and consume.
At Fresh Del Monte, our sustainability efforts begin on our farms, before our crops are even planted. We are stewards of our environment, conserving land, water, and species wherever possible. However, there are huge opportunities for impact throughout our entire value chain.
Biodiversity loss and climate change are intrinsically linked—and both impact agricultural production. To combat these interconnected crises, our farming teams are working closely with our scientists to implement regenerative agriculture practices to ensure the longevity of our production by safeguarding soils and conserving species and their habitats in our growing regions.
Regenerative agriculture considers the health of the entire ecological system we operate in. As part of this approach, we prioritize the health of our soil. The soil is where our products start, so nutrient-rich soil means we reap optimal crop yields. We also have strict soil and land management practices to prevent soil erosion. If soil erodes, we not only lose our growing capability, but animals and plants lose their homes. We farm on low slopes to reduce runoff and soil loss and improve the structure of our soil, all while researching new, more efficient practices. One such efficiency is our use of smart farming technologies, such as the use of drones, multispectral images, and remote sensing, which gives us a more holistic view of our farms and their soil and pinpoints where there are nutritional deficiencies or fields in stress. Smart farming also allows us to reduce our pesticide use by applying it more precisely, only where needed.
By maintaining the soil, planting native tree species along waterways on our farms, and increasing the efficiency of inputs, we’re working to actively contribute to the conservation of local flora and fauna. But we take it a step further. More than a quarter of our owned land is set aside for conservation purposes. We don’t grow here—we support and maintain native forests. Some of these areas are formally designated as wildlife refuges and others are segments of land within our farming areas called biological corridors which allow species to move freely throughout our operations, reducing the risk of habitat fragmentation. Through annual species inventories and ongoing wildlife monitoring, we’ve seen that these protected areas support a diverse set of plants and animals. We know that it is our responsibility to farm in a way that allows these species to continue to flourish.
Efficiencies and innovations made possible by new technology will allow the global food system to continue providing food for the world’s population, while also ensuring we’re reducing our impact and taking care of our planet. On the heels of the World Biodiversity Summit at COP26, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference recently held in Glasgow, UK, we need to continue to be ambitious in our sustainability goals and encourage others in the supply chain to adopt similar standards. Our global food system, including farmers (large and small), processers, retailers, and consumers need to work together to achieve the shared goal of providing affordable fresh fruit and vegetables while responding to climate change and safeguarding global biodiversity. We are all crucial components of our food system.
As our global population grows, it only becomes more imperative. At Fresh Del Monte, we’re committed to making changes large and small to reduce our impact. We are looking to strengthen partnerships with crucial members of the supply chain in order to create a food system that is equitable and provides fresh, sustainably grown food for a growing population while addressing biodiversity loss and climate change. We welcome collaboration when it comes to innovating and financing these much-needed, life-changing advancements, so together, we can transform our food system and build a Brighter World Tomorrow™. If the entire food system, from top to bottom, gets the support it needs, everyone benefits.
● 1 Crippa, M., Solazzo, E., Guizzardi, D. et al. Food systems are responsible for a third of global anthropogenic GHG emissions. Nat Food 2, 198–209 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-021-00225-9
About the author
Hans Sauter, Senior Vice President, R&D and Agricultural Services and Chief Sustainability Officer
Hans Sauter has served as the Chief Sustainability Officer and Senior Vice President, Corporate R&D, QA, and Agricultural Services since 2020 and 2019, respectively. Prior to that time, he served as our Vice President of Corporate R&D and Agricultural Services from February 2014 to February 2019. Mr. Sauter served as Director, Agricultural Services and New Development from 1998 to 2012, when he was named Vice President, Agricultural Services & Special Projects for the Colombia, Ecuador, Central America and Brazil (CECAB) region. Mr.Sauter joined the Company in 1988 as Plant Pathology Superintendent for the Costa Rica banana division, and from 1991 to 1998, he led the Costa Rica pineapple division Research Department during the time the Del Monte Gold® Extra Sweet pineapple was first launched.