International: Integrating globally-recognised sustainability metrics for tropical perennial crops in a one-stop shop Cool Farm Tool

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: The Roslin Institute

Abstract

We will develop a fully integrated environmental decision support tool for tropical perennial crops and deliver a full technical specification for inclusion into the online, and freely available Cool Farm Tool. The Cool Farm Tool is owned by the Cool Farm Alliance (CFA) who will partner on this project. It is a business-led initiative to assess and improve the sustainability of agriculture-based supply chains. It is funded via a membership model, with membership consisting of over 50 companies including for example major multinationals such as Unilever, PepsiCo, Heineken, Danone, Nestle, Marks and Spencer, and Tesco. Members pay to maintain the tool and deploy at scale in their supply chains but it is a core principle of the Alliance that the tool is and will always be free-to-use for farmers.
The CFT itself is a science-based decision support tool designed for use by farmers at farm scale. It has benefitted from significant NERC Discovery and Innovation funding in the past and as a result includes a growing suite of metrics for crop and livestock systems in an expanding set of geographic locations (over 100 countries). Several case studies have shown the impact that has been derived using the tool, for example PepsiCo's "50-in-5" (http://pepsico.co.uk/live/story/celebrating-sustainable-farming) and egg production in North America resulting in a 25% reduction in the carbon footprint from primary production (Vetter et al 2018).
Tropical perennial crops are of huge importance to global food supply chains and typically have high dependence on smallholder farmers in DAC countries where decision-support has been hindered less scientific evidence and the focus of researchers in temperate regions. This project build on numerous previous NERC and Wellcome Trust outputs and exploits established successful relationships between the project partners to ensure delivery. We will develop modules based around the existing CFT methods to allow a one-stop shop assessment tool for carbon and water footprinting and biodiversity impacts of farm practice in tropical perennials. Through partnership with the Cool Farm Alliance and the £5.4M Wellcome Trust funded SHEFS project we will ensure delivery of a tool which has practical value to farmers and supply chains. This business-led, science-based, and farmer-focused project will thereby provide robust metrics which will allow farmers to engage and demonstrate their positive actions for sustainability into international supply chains, and the businesses to identify good practices to embed in their sustainable sourcing strategies. The possibility to combine, in a single decision support tool, the multiple impacts of farm practices is attractive for many reasons, not least being that it will reduce the current burden on farmers to conduct multiple assessments of dubious value on multiple impacts for multiple buyers.

Planned Impact

The Cool Farm Alliance is the primary vehicle for deriving impact from this project, and the delivery of the one-stop tool will have wide reach given that it is a key component of the sustainable sourcing assessment of major global businesses and is used to identify interventions and sustainable practices for implementation across supply chains. The project embeds three workshops with the participation of the Cool Farm Alliance itself to (i) scope the tropical perennials module, (ii) conduct case studies using the tool we develop, and (iii) develop the full technical specification for embedding our tool on the online Cool Farm Tool platform. Note that a Technical Specification is not a description of the underlying methods but a full description of how the methods should be implemented in software which includes design of inputs and outputs and the user experience. Delivery of the full Technical Specification enable the "last mile" investment which the Cool Farm Alliance is set-up to deliver using members' fees.

The Cool Farm Tool is designed for use by farmers. The reason for this is that they are the ones who are ultimately responsible for implementing the good practices identified using the tool. The benefits to farmers are three-fold. Firstly, they are able to understand their own environmental impacts. Such knowledge exists in the scientific domain but without well designed decision-support software and services as provided by the Cool Farm Alliance farmers cannot synthesis it. Secondly, by using a business relevant software platform, they are able to demonstrate their positive actions for sustainability into international supply chains and more widely. Finally, there has been an increasing burden on farmers over the last 15 years in terms of auditing and reporting into various sustainability programmes and standards. The alignment of the food and drink industry around a single standard and the provision of a tool which can capture auditable and simultaneously assess multiple environmental impacts has the possibility to dramatically reduce the burden of reporting on farmers why providing them the decision support capacity to form their own judgement on good practices and make business decision in an informed way.

As described elsewhere, we will exploit the large network established in the SHEFs project. Via case studies conducted in direct collaboration with SHEFs partners the tool will be used to assess policies at national level that support the sustainable production of important perennial crops. In particular we will run case studies on mango in India (currently 20% of all fruit production) to quantify the carbon, water and biodiversity impacts of mangos at national and state-level. This will be used by SHEFs colleagues to explore potential scenarios for changing production and consumption that could improve health and environmental sustainability. The SHEFs programme also has outreach activities (e.g. http://blogs.lshtm.ac.uk/shefs/2018/04/20/sustainable-and-healthy-food-choices-inspiring-debate-with-school-children-in-india/) in which the case studies and the CFT tropical perennials module, when implemented online can be used for teaching students through the partner training activities and develop engagement activities in local schools

Finally, the academic partners in this project will continue to seek opportunities to present the project, it's activities and learnings through the useful dissemination facilities such as published articles (on methods and learnings), and existing social media and networks and undergraduate and post-graduate teaching programmes.

Publications

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Description 2 1-day stakeholder workshops led by Cambridge University. To develop relevant question set for tropical biodiversity module of the Cool Farm Tool. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact 2 1-day stakeholder workshops led by Cambridge University. To develop relevant question set for tropical biodiversity module of the Cool Farm Tool. Participants included around 30 Food and Drink company representatives and NGOs.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020