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Sustainability and resilience as opportunities for agri-food SMEs

Did you know that the agri-food industry is one of the main responsible for climate change and, at the same time, one of the sectors most affected by its impacts?

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Published by ConnectAmericas

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Approximately a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions (known as GHGs, responsible for global warming) are estimated to come from agriculture, as well as land-use changes and deforestation associated with it. While most of these emissions originate from production, other links in the value chain, such as transportation, sales, packaging, and consumption, contribute to about 30% of GHG emissions. Even more concerning is that 27% of these emissions originate in the Americas.


In addition to being responsible for a significant volume of emissions, the agri-food sector is also one of the most affected by the climate crisis, especially in Latin America. In fact, Central America is one of the regions most impacted by extreme weather events associated with climate change, such as prolonged droughts followed by intense rains.


The impacts of these extreme events affect not only agricultural producers but the entire supply chain and consumers, who will see the availability of certain products affected. Given its significant role in GHG emissions, agribusinesses can also be a key player in mitigating climate change by adopting measures and practices that promote sustainable productivity and climate resilience.


Let's talk about sustainability and resilience.


Sustainability is defined by the United Nations as meeting the needs of the present without negatively affecting the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The looming threat of climate change has made this concept increasingly relevant, integrating it as a fundamental axis of the business models of companies. If there is a sector where sustainability is essential, it is the agri-food sector. For example, in terms of water usage: 90% of results in this sector depend on the management of water resources, making sustainable use of available water sources essential. Paired with the sustainable use of natural resources, agribusinesses also need to reduce production risks and vulnerabilities while increasing their capacity to adapt to the effects of climate change. This is what climate resilience refers to. Aligning agri-food production with sustainability and climate resilience goals should not be seen as a restriction on productive development. The challenge is to address climate change with sustainable solutions that also contribute to the well-being of producers. The key is to identify possible paths to transition from current agri-food systems to new, more sustainable and resilient models that not only exploit natural resources but enhance and value them.


Opportunities for sustainable and resilient management.


There are various strategies and proposals to achieve resilience and sustainability in agribusiness. But what are the most suitable for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) interested in implementing climate solutions?


The answer has to do with the goal they pursue and the resources they have. We propose a list of solutions that we consider suitable for adoption by SMEs in the Central American region, for three reasons:


The greater vulnerability of the Central American region demands immediate but effective actions at any scale.

The less hierarchical structure of SMEs facilitates the implementation of solutions.

The size of SMEs also favors the scaling of good practices more quickly.

The solutions we propose are organized according to the climate objective they pursue.


Promoting Climate Resilience:


Use service trees to provide shade to your crops and cushion the impacts of high temperatures.

Use live barriers to prevent erosion during heavy rains or extreme events.

Preserve wooded areas near water sources to ensure water supply.

Diversify your crops.

Improve soil health.

Protecting Ecosystems:


Integrate biodiversity conservation into your production strategies.

Promote the use of less toxic inputs and environmentally manage pesticides with effective productive alternatives in technical, economic, and environmental terms.

Introduce species or varieties that better adapt to soil and climate conditions.

Reforest and restore degraded ecosystems.

Avoid the advance of the agricultural frontier.

Promote the production of different crops and avoid monocultures.

Encourage agroforestry and agroecological systems.

Reducing GHG Emissions:


Avoid deforestation.

Reduce food loss and waste.

Assess the environmental footprint of internationally traded products and determine if their distant origin implies excessive exploitation of water, soil nutrients, biodiversity, or other natural resources in places where they are scarce or at risk.

Diversify risks by combining local or shorter supply chain sourcing strategies and integration strategies with regional or international markets.

Pursuing Energy Efficiency:


Promote ways to use organic waste to generate energy (biomass).

Adopt energy-efficient technologies and renewable generation sources (biogas digesters, solar panels, solar thermal energy to heat water, turbines, solar water pumps).

As you may have noticed, these solutions are focused on the production stage, but there are also opportunities to promote sustainability and climate resilience in value chains. We propose some ideas, either for you to implement if your business is part of a value chain or if you are interested in promoting them among your suppliers:


Value local products and markets.

Include environmental and social costs and criteria in value chains.

Promote the circular economy and fair trade schemes.

Use technological tools, such as geographic information systems or satellite images, to ensure that your value chains also promote sustainable practices such as non-deforestation.

Benefits beyond environmental preservation.


In addition to caring for and conserving the environment, implementing solutions that contribute to emissions reduction and promote climate resilience has other benefits for businesses.


Optimizes resource use: Sustainable management of natural resources such as water and soil involves using them efficiently.

Increases customer trust and loyalty: Consumers increasingly value the environmental commitment of brands when it is genuine.

Gives you a competitive advantage: Increasing your customers' trust can also attract new customers and investors and foster a virtuous cycle of growth and productivity, which in the long run can help you scale your climate solutions.

Keep in mind that these benefits are additional and should not be your main motivation for implementing climate solutions. You may risk not implementing the most appropriate solutions for your business, and customers recognize when a brand is not genuine in its motivations, which can negatively impact your brand.


At ConnectAmericas, we have a guide to resources and tools on sustainability and how you can increase the added value of your business by applying environmental criteria. Access it here. On the other hand, if you decide to implement some environmental solutions in your business, it is important to communicate them to both your team and your customers. Internally, it will help sensitize your staff, and it will be easier for you to modify aspects within your business, such as reducing energy consumption or waste. While sharing your efforts, you will let people know what your company is doing for the environment and why consuming your products contributes to caring for the environment. Remember not only to talk about what you do but also about your achievements. Think that by communicating your experience, you can not only motivate your customers but also inspire other businesses to implement climate solutions.







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