Food giants join forces to ‘scale’ regenerative agriculture.

The uptake of regenerative agriculture is proving to be “too slow” because the “economics” are not feasible for farmers, a group of agriculture and packaged food majors said.

Companies including Mars and McCain Foods, along with fertilizer supplier Yara International and British upscale grocer Waitrose, today (3 November) unveiled an “action plan” to “expand” the use of regenerative agriculture.

A group of 12 companies, which also includes Mondelez International and PepsiCo, said current usage of what proponents call “regen ag” falls “far short of the levels” needed to combat climate change.

In a report, the companies called for the rate of expansion of regenerative agriculture to be tripled to support global efforts to limit the planet’s temperature rise to 1.5°C.

They argued that the practice must cover at least 40% of the world’s arable land by 2030, up from about 15% today.

Common metrics, “market-based financial incentives,” an “overhaul” of how food sources are developed, and targeted government policies are all needed to support the “scaling” of regenerative agriculture, the companies claimed.

Grant Reid, outgoing Mars CEO, said: “These are unprecedented times with supply chains under tremendous pressure and the impacts of climate change all too real. Regenerative agriculture is a critical part of the solution, and our report shows all too clearly that despite great work, adoption rates are far too slow because the short-term economic case for change is not compelling enough for farmers.

“As an industry, we urgently need to address these areas if we are to meet our net zero commitments and protect against future supply chain disruptions.”

Emissions from agriculture remain among the top challenges facing packaged food companies, and some are working to address the issue. PepsiCo, for example, wants to spread regenerative farming practices to seven million hectares, while European dairy group Arla Foods is piloting 24 farmers in the UK, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark to “develop regenerative farming practices in a structured and coordinated way”.

As corporate interest in the practice grows, there are a number of questions about regenerative agriculture, including the precise methods and success of initiatives underway to date. The flexibility in the approaches companies can adopt has also sparked accusations of greenwashing in some quarters.

Ramon Laguarta, PepsiCo Chairman and CEO, said, “Regenerative agriculture can be one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal to combat climate change and biodiversity loss. Regenerative agriculture can also improve the livelihoods of farming communities around the world. We all need to adopt a farmer-first approach and take immediate action to expand our support for farmers to implement the practices that benefit them and the planet.”

Just Food Analysis, September 2022: Why We Are at a Critical Phase in the Development of Regenerative Agriculture

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