The food industry has launched important initiatives focusing on the start of the supply chain to boost sustainability and improve supply.
Ernesto Brovelli, senior manager, sustainable agriculture, The Coca-Cola Company and president of Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform told FoodNavigator it has launched a comprehensive calculator enabling farmers to manage resources far better.
“There are a variety of calculators out there,” said Brovelli. “We have been looking at the scientific basis of all of them.” About six of them stood out, he said. “Yet some were only for the US, some were just for cereals ... so there’s not really any global calculator.
“With the Sustainability Performance Assessment (SPA) calculator we have created a framework of basic data growers need to input.”
The prototype was still in the trial stages, he said. “It’s not a calculator at this point, but it has prompted a lot of interest.”
It could supply farmers with at-a-glance information on greenhouse gas emissions they were producing, water quantity and quality being used and biodiversity metrics, he said. Biodiversity was important because any slight change in farming methods could radically affect areas such as soil ecosystems and pollinating insects that could have dramatic impact on crop yields, he added.
Other innovations included the development of a water-use calculator for growers to monitor and manage water, greater training for farmers in sustainable techniques and a harmonised checklist they could use to audit performance.
Elsewhere, it has been announced that PepsiCo and Cambridge University have joined forces to introduce a new smartphone application that will help farmers predict future harvests. The app, which has been trialled across 46 potato fields, works by photographing and analysing the potato leaf canopy to accurately predict crop development.
Last year the company co-developed i-crop, a system that helps farmers to measure and reduce their overall water usage by collecting and calculating crop information, such as soil moisture levels. Initial trials of i-crop have shown a 13% increase in crop yield and an 8% reduction in water usage across 46 PepsiCo UK potato farms.
PepsiCo has also been one of the first companies to use Cool Farm Tool – a carbon calculator developed by the University of Aberdeen. The device has enabled farmers to assess greenhouse gas emissions and create models to help reduce them.
“British Farming is the engine of our business, from the potatoes we use for Walkers crisps to the oats for Quaker porridge and the apples for Copella juices,” said David Wilkinson, senior director, European Agriculture for PepsiCo Europe.
Global food crisis
In a related development, Nestlé’s chief executive Paul Bulcke has urged for water to be given more value to avert a global food crisis.
Speaking at the annual World Water Week event in Stockholm, Sweden, Bulcke cited water scarcity as one of the main reasons for increased tension between food supply and demand. He called on governments to take the lead in devising credible, cost effective strategies to tackle the issue.
“Fresh water is being massively overused at nature’s expense, but it seems only a global crisis will make us realise the importance of the issue,” he said.
“Putting pressure on farmers to use water more efficiently is not, in my view, the right thing. We must convince and help them to adopt more sustainable practices. Plants only need about 40-50% of the actual amount of water withdrawn for agriculture today, so there is still huge potential to make savings.”