Agricultural Dialog - Viewing sustainability from all angles - March 2013


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Sustainability is now a major challenge for farmers as they face up to the reality of globalization and the need to produce more with less. By its true definition, it can only be evaluated when a range of indicators covering economic, social and environmental dimensions are considered collectively across the entire food and feed value chains... Read more in this issues of Agricultural Dialog

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Agricultural Dialog - Viewing sustainability from all angles - March 2013

  1. 1. Information from the agricultural industry | MARCH 2013AGRICULTURAL DIALOGUE 18 Editorial Dear Readers, Acting sustainably in agriculture is a prerequisite for protecting the future of global food production and farming. Despite widespread consensus on the need for more sustainable agriculture, debate continues on what exactly that entails. BASF is convinced that it can only be achieved by considering economic, ecological and social requirements collectively. Acting in a way that accurately balances these requirements is challenging but it can be achieved with models that enable an objective comparison of such impacts and key variables. In 2011, BASF usedViewing sustainability from all angles its experience in the development of eco-efficiency analysis tools to launch AgBalance, a holistic scientific methodologySustainability is now a major challenge for farmers as they face up to the to measure agricultural sustainability.reality of globalization and the need to produce more with less. By its true Based on economic, environmental, anddefinition, it can only be evaluated when a range of indicators covering social indicators, AgBalance has been specifically developed to help all foodeconomic, social and environmental dimensions are considered collectively value chain stakeholders test their views onacross the entire food and feed value chains. A holistic assessment is the only sustainable agriculture, have a more fact-way to provide a scientific basis for informed, fact-based decision making based dialogue and identify the key driverson how to improve the sustainability of any given agricultural production for improvement.system. In this edition of the Agricultural Dialogue we would like to give you an understandingDespite consensus on the need for sustainable agriculture, debate continues of our approach to measure sustainabilityon what it means. A common understanding, however, is the need to balance in agriculture. We are also delighted thateach of the three pillars - namely environment, society and economy. this issue includes interviews with two noted sustainability experts, Prof. Dr.Therefore sustainability becomes a matter of equilibrium between the global, Lucia A. Reisch, Member of the Germanlocal and micro benefits and impacts of the three categories. Sustainability Council, and Drew Purves, Head of the Computational Ecology andReaching accurate, objective measurement Environmental Science Group at Microsoft Research Cambridge.Supporting and improving sustainability in agriculture is a key element ofBASF’s business strategy. As a global provider of agricultural solutions wehave a longstanding tradition of helping farmers achieve their goals. Markus Heldt President, Crop Protection Division, BASF SE
  2. 2. Agricultural Dialogue 18 2The company has strived to apply objective, accurate and standardizedtools for assessing sustainability in different sectors; in fact ourmethodologies have been successfully applied in over 500 studies inthe past 15 years.AgBalance, BASF’s new method for measuring and evaluatingsustainability in agriculture, is a lifecycle analysis tool that comparesfarm operations while taking all dimensions into account. The methodprovides a pragmatic sustainability score and includes the entirefood and feed value chains, namely manufacturers of crop protectionsolutions, distributors, farmers and retailers.How AgBalance worksAgBalance can be applied to any geographical scope or agricultural Did you know?process. After outlining the core questions of a study, BASF experts Soil is by far the most biologicallyassess if all data are available, and if any further topics need to be diverse part of Earth. A handful of soilconsidered to conduct an accurate assessment. Once the frame and may contain more than 10 billion micro-content is agreed, data collection starts for each of the 69 indicators organisms. The soil environmentBASF uses as the basis for its sustainability evaluation. This information is home to an even larger share ofis then screened and the units standardised before being fed into the biodiversity than tropical forests.calculation system. Each study makes a comparative assessmentof these results against BASF’s database of similarly scoped and According to the European Environmentgeographically located assessments, to benchmark the sustainability Agency (EEA), almost 21% of Europeprofile on a scale for comparison. consists of protected areas. This compares to roughly 13% in the USA,As AgBalance is a comparative analysis tool, it is important to include 17% in China and more than 26% inas many readily available factors as possible for consideration. Different Brazil.alternatives are defined by the production systems (e.g. fertilizerregime, pesticide regime), agricultural practices (no-till, conventional till, According to the European Commissionother differences in machinery used), extensive/intensive production, (DG Agriculture), on average, 44% ofirrigation, growing regions (with concurrent differences in environmental, total water abstraction in Europe isand socio-economic background), and the type of crop and different used for agriculture.crop rotations. The United Nations estimates that agriculture is the single largest employerA BASF contribution to sustainable agriculture in the world, providing livelihoods forHaving a common framework for assessing sustainability and the 40% of today’s global population.benefits and impact of different options helps farmers, business and Europe has 13.7 million farmers and anauthorities make informed decisions. The challenges ahead are pressing. average farm size of about 12 hectaresTo achieve higher yields on existing land using fewer resources, whilst (by way of comparison, the US has 2ensuring profitability, protection of the environment and respect for million farmers and an average sizesociety, we must start with a level playing field in how we measure of 180 hectares). Women farmerssustainability. represent over 35% of the agricultural workforce in Europe. Guarani Case Study Guarani, the third largest group in the Brazilian sugar-energy sector (producing 900,000 m³ of ethanol each year), commissioned an AgBalance study in 2011. The goals were to identify the real sustainability challenges in the sugar-energy production chain, while noting good practices and areas for improvement among Guarani’s business units. The results pointed out specific operational processes at the farm that could be improved by applying simple management measures. The AgBalance study identified higher mechanization at harvest, together with higher use of sugar cane by-products as fertilizers, as the key areas for improvement. The study also noted that use of sugar cane by-products could reduce the impact of farming on the environment, as this leads to less energy consumption and a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions.
  3. 3. INFORMATION FROM THE AGRICULTURAL INDUSTRY | MARCH 2013 3 About Prof. Dr. Lucia A. Reisch Prof. Dr. Lucia A. Reisch studied Economic Sciences at the University Hohenheim and Business Administration at the UC Los Angeles, USA. She has been a professor for intercultural research in consumption and consumer policy at the Copenhagen Business School since 2006. Having written more than 300The Science of Measurement publications, she also participates in several EU research projects on Prof. Dr. Lucia A. Reisch, Member of the German sustainable consumption, health Council for Sustainable Development (RNE), and behavior of children as well as youth, professor at Copenhagen Business School and consumer and nutrition policy. Zeppelin University, Friedrichshafen (Germany) discusses the current trends in sustainability. From 2001 to 2011, she chaired As a specialist in consumer behavior, what the scientific advisory board for trends are you witnessing in terms of consumer consumption and nutrition policy demand for sustainable food production? of the Ministry for Food, Agriculture Present trends include regionalization and the and Consumer Protection (BMELV)demand for organic products – despite the crisis. Fair Trade is another in Berlin. She has been chairpersongrowth area, but only in a few sectors. In addition to neutral carbon of the German consumer committeedioxide production, which is used in Scandinavia as a special indicator of the state of Baden-Württembergof sustainability, the issue of multiple applications is another trend that since 2006 and a member of theis increasing in importance. In this area there are already numerous German Council for Sustainablemarketing campaigns with the underlying message “Better for you, Development (RNE) since June 2010.better for your pocket, better for the environment”.In addition, home growing has acquired greater importance. This Prof. Dr. Lucia A. Reisch is,movement has a strong social dimension. Home growing has a strong among others, a member of thecommunity effect and also involves a return to neighborliness. conference for Sustainability Baden-Labeling should not be forgotten. It is a central theme. I notice that Württemberg, a member of themany traders are very focused on it. Competition has been created management board of Stiftungand it is putting pressure on politics. It is to be encouraged, I think. Warentest Berlin, and a member ofFrom your point of view – how important is the science of the council of the Utopia foundationmeasurement for achieving goals towards sustainable production? Munich.“Only what you can measure can be compared” - I support this idea.I therefore consider that measurement and data assessment areextremely important. Even when the measurement processes are socomplicated that they cannot be easily communicated to consumers,this approach is very important for the food chain and all actors withinit. We can only define clear goals, check them and communicate themif we have data. Consequently, it would be hard to exaggerate theimportance of good systems of measurement.RNE has granted BASF’s AgBalance an ideas award. What aspectsof the method particularly stood out?The issue of sustainability in agriculture is complex and, indeed, thereis a lot of factual information available about it. The RNE welcomesthe fact that a big company like BASF is nevertheless - or maybe forthis very reason - concerned with this issue. BASF is a large chemicalcompany and thus has a great responsibility. The company has nowsaid - yes, we have a network and we have the means and are nowbeginning to analyze the systematic measurement of sustainability -which is an attitude worth supporting. Also, to our knowledge, attemptsto represent all aspects of sustainability (as we see in AgBalance) arenot yet happening on a consistent basis.
  4. 4. Agricultural Dialogue 18 INFORMATION FROM THE AGRICULTURAL INDUSTRY | MARCH 2013 4Similarly, there is transparency about AgBalance: information is givenon the method, weighting and sources. Sensitive issues such as genetic Drew Purves is theengineering are not left out, but are instead set out for discussion. Head of the Compu-Of course, the RNE was also asked why a chemical company like BASF tational Ecology andwas recognized in this year’s ideas contest – but for us the approach of Environmental ScienceAgBalance was central. In our view, this is a good approach. And I am Group (CEES), a part of the Computationalalso convinced that the method will be of interest to other industries. Science Lab atWhat do you expect from BASF, as the owner of such a method, in Microsoft Researchorder to make progress in sustainable agriculture? Cambridge. CEES doesBASF has a special responsibility but also the means and the ecological research andopportunities to develop a method such as AgBalance. Consequently, predictive modelling of global-scale environmental phenomena. Recent projectswe would welcome it if they made this method available to others who include the world’s first fully data-constrainedare interested in it but who might lack the necessary means. This would model of terrestrial carbon, the world’sfavor progress in sustainable production and improved processes. first ‘general ecosystem model’ GEM,BASF has agreed to this as well. FetchClimate and tool for helping the IUCNIn many people’s minds sustainability is more closely linked with with their red-listing process.environmentalism than economic or societal requirements. How How can models help in achievingdoes the Sustainability Council work to redress this balance? environmental sustainability’?This link is strongly culturally dependent. In Scandinavia the idea When engineers design cars, bridges andof sustainability derives from a strong social dimension – that of planes, they use computer models. TheCorporate Social Responsibility (CSR). In Germany it began with the models allow them to quickly test complexenvironmental movement and the church movement for Fair Trade. In ideas in the computer and to foreseethe UK, animal rights were the driving force for many years. So we must problems before they occur. For the samedistinguish here. reasons, we need predictive models of environmental systems, like forests, fisheries,The Council for Sustainable Development in Germany has a very broad food production, and biodiversity. With suchapproach in order to contribute to different needs. Firstly, we deal models we can try out different policy optionswith the question of the culture of sustainability: what are the cultural in the computer, in order to find the best wayprerequisites for sowing the seeds of sustainable activities on fertile to manage our natural resources – rathersoil? Secondly, we provide a shopping guide with the «Sustainable than do it by trial and error in the real world.Shopping Basket» project that gives equal consideration to the Why ‘predictive’?environmental and social dimensions. The German Sustainability Code Because ultimately, sustainability is aboutof course includes all dimensions of sustainability. the future. The models can predict importantMaking sustainable choices is a highly complex task, as AgBalance things about ecosystems (say, sustainablealso demonstrates. What advice do you have for politicians, industry timber yield) that have not yet been observed,and farmers? for places we have never been to, for theFirst of all: information is important. The measurement of data and future (a time we have never been to!) and most importantly of all, under policy andinformation about this is essential. Data must be independently monitored management options that we have neverand taken very seriously. The same holds true for consumer labels. tried before.In addition, however, we know from behavioral research on consumer What do you mean by a ‘joined up’decisions that a sustainable choice must be the obvious choice, as approach to environmental sustainability,highlighted in the motto «Make the sustainable choice the easy choice». and why can models help with this?If the offer is attainable, consumers will take it into account. Therefore acritical role is increasingly being played by public services – canteens, You can’t solve any environmental problem in isolation. Take food production. We needfor example. Here there is a lot of leverage to pick up consumers. to reduce inputs like energy and fertilizer inFrom my perspective, the sustainability discourse at the retail level Europe. But if this reduces yields, then foodis often overloaded with information and unemotional. This approach prices will rise, which encourages tropicalcertainly reaches the experts and stakeholders in the value chain. For farmers to clear more forest for agriculture,end customers, we need to have done our job already and offer them which releases the carbon that was stored ina serious, simple, obvious choice that includes sustainable production. the trees as CO2, which increases pressure to reduce emissions further, which encourages biofuels, which takes land from farming, Imprint which pushes up food prices, and all the time BASF SE Rainer von Mielecki the climate is changing … In short, we need to assess all aspects of the environment, Agricultural Center Limburgerhof AP/K – Public/Government Affairs society and economy together, and find the AP/K - LI555 Phone: +49 (0) 621 / 60-27 511 best joint solution that we can. Models are crucial here, because they allow us to move 67117 Limburgerhof Fax: +49 (0) 621 / 60-27 512 away from these endless verbal arguments, Germany and instead put actual numbers on these kinds of linkages in the system. Editor: Tassilo Galitz