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Sustainability and resilience as opportunities for agribusiness SMEs

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

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Published by ConnectAmericas

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It is estimated that around a quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions (known as GHGs and responsible for global warming) come from agriculture, as well as the associated land use changes and deforestation.

Although most of these emissions come from production, other links in the value chain, such as transportation, sales, packaging and consumption, contribute around 30% of GHG emissions. Even more worrying is the fact 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 sectors most affected by the climate crisis, especially in Latin America. In fact, Central America is one of the regions most affected by extreme weather events associated with climate change, such as prolonged droughts followed by heavy rains. 

The impact of these extreme events is not only for agricultural producers, but also for the entire supply chain and consumers, who will see the availability of certain products affected. Given their significant role in generating GHG emissions, agribusiness can also be a key player in climate change mitigation by adopting measures and practices that boost 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 latent threat of climate change has made this concept more and more popular and it is becoming a fundamental part of companies' business models. If there is one sector in which sustainability is essential, it is precisely the agri-food sector. We see this, for example, in the use of water: 90% of the results in this sector depend on the management of water resources, so it is essential to make sustainable use of available water sources. Along with the sustainable use of natural resources, agribusinesses also need to reduce the risks and vulnerabilities of production, while increasing their capacity to adapt to the effects of climate change. This is what climate resilience is all about. Aligning agrifood production with sustainability and climate resilience objectives should not be seen as a constraint to 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 ways to move from current agrifood systems to new, more sustainable and resilient models that not only exploit natural resources, but also enhance and valorize them.

Opportunities for sustainable and resilient management 

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

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

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

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

  3. The size of the SMEs also favors a faster scaling up of good practices.

Promote climate resilience

  • Use service trees to provide shade for your crops and buffer the impacts of high temperatures.

  • Employ living barriers to prevent erosion during heavy rains or extreme events.

  • Conserve forested areas near water sources to ensure water supply.

  • Diversify your crops.

  • Improve soil health. 

Protecting ecosystems

  • Integrate biodiversity conservation into your production strategies.

  • Encourage the use of less toxic inputs and manage pesticides in an environmentally sound manner with technically, economically and environmentally effective production alternatives.

  • Introduce species or varieties that are better adapted to soil and climate conditions.

  • Reforests and restores degraded ecosystems.

  • It prevents the advance of the agricultural frontier.

  • Encourages the production of different crops and avoids monocultures.

  • Promotes agroforestry and agroecological systems.

Reduce GHG emissions

  • Avoid deforestation

  • Reduces food loss and waste.

  • Assesses the environmental footprint of internationally traded products and determines whether their distant origin implies overexploitation of water, soil nutrients, biodiversity or other natural resources in places where these are scarce or at risk. 

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

Pursue energy efficiency

  • Promotes ways of using organic waste to generate energy (biomass).

  • Adopt energy efficiency technologies and renewable generation sources (biodigesters, solar panels, solar thermal water heating, turbines, solar water pumps).

As you may have noticed, these solutions are focused on the production stage, but there are also opportunities to foster sustainability and climate resilience in value chains. Here are some ideas 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 costs and environmental and social criteria in value chains.

  • Encourage circular economy and fair trade schemes.

  • Use technological tools, such as geographic information systems or satellite imagery, to ensure that your value chains also promote sustainable practices such as no deforestation.

Benefits beyond environmental preservation

In addition to environmental care and conservation, implementing solutions that contribute to emissions reduction and foster climate resilience has other benefits for companies. 

  • Optimize the use of resources: sustainable management of natural resources such as water and soil implies using them efficiently.

  • Increases customer trust and loyalty: consumers are increasingly valuing 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 lead to a virtuous cycle of growth and productivity, which can ultimately help you scale your climate solutions.

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

On the other hand, if you decide to implement some environmental solutions in your business, it is important that you communicate it to both your team and your customers. Internally it will help you to raise awareness among your staff, and it will also make it easier for you to modify aspects within your business such as reducing energy consumption or waste. While sharing your efforts will let people know what your company is doing for the environment and why by consuming your products they are helping to care 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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