Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) are being accused of falling short of their climate change commitments. An investigation by The Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that the banks had invested some USD 2.6 billion in large-scale livestock and dairy companies over the last decade. At the same time, the World Bank was involved in a new multisectoral report released last week recommending reducing beef and dairy consumption which account for 41% and 20% respectively of total agricultural emissions. The banks defended themselves, saying that the investments were to improve food security in poorer countries. Analysts, however, argued that a big part of the investments were made in rich countries, saying this was “not […]  justifiable.”

The apparent conflict between food security and climate change is exemplified in Indonesia where the government announced a plan to set up a 164,000ha agricultural estate in Borneo to ensure sufficient domestic food supply. The targeted area would require further land clearing, environmentalists warned, adding that the crops the government wants to grow, such as rice, are unsuited for the dry area and could lead to fires. 

To accommodate these increasingly complex scenarios, the Rainforest Alliance announced it was changing its certification system. The NGO said that certification was facing “much bigger challenges” because climate change was worsening social inequalities. The new certification will require its members to have a more proactive role in identifying and controlling their supply chain, in exchange for a mandatory premium. 

Food corporations, meanwhile, are looking at technology to help accelerate the process. Nestle joined The China Food Tech Hub, a consortium of 15 members, including Mars, Coca-Cola and Ferrero, designed to accelerate innovation in food by putting together multinational companies with startups. The areas of interest include plant-based protein and cell culture as consumers are increasingly concerned with their health, an official from the Tech Hub said. 

Unilever has tied up with Alibaba to use the Chinese company’s artificial intelligence and data on consumer behaviour for its digital marketing. Unilever explained that consumers’ buying patterns are changing very fast, adding that this was part of an intention to “reduce marketing waste.” This also comes at a time when Unilever joined several other companies, including Coca-Cola and Starbucks, in boycotting Facebook advertising for the way it’s been handling hate speech. Also in China, Walmart tied up with blockchain group Varcode, whose technology helps identify food that has gone bad. 

Cargill, meanwhile, tied up with Burger King and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in a grasslands restoration program. The idea is to reseed some 8,000acres of marginal cropland in Montana and South Dakota in the US, transforming the areas into diverse grasslands with the beef’s grazing as part of the ecosystem. Cargill also announced it had managed to completely trace its Brazilian soybeans supply chain, with several other countries to follow through by the end of the year. The group’s GPS data points enable it to identify the land of origin of the soybean it purchases, thereby ensuring it comes from land that was not recently deforested. An NGO complained, however, that “recent” was a relative term. COFCO International, meanwhile, said it was planning for its soybean supply chain to be fully traceable by 2023. 

In the EU, farmers are asking the Commission to ease rules on agriculture drones. They argue that the drone’s precision technology will help meet the bloc’s Farm to Fork strategy, which involves halving the use of pesticides. DroneDeploy, which is based in the US where the use of commercial drones has been allowed since the end of 2016, argues that the data generated from drones is also very valuable, helping farmers make better decisions with regards to their crops. 

In Brazil’s Mato Grosso, for instance, UISA and Vivo have tied up to cover some 90,000ha of sugarcane area with Internet connection by setting up 4G towers. The system will facilitate the control of self driven technologies as well as streamline data collection, which was previously done offline. A company official explained that this would improve the efficiency of both machines and people, thereby reducing cost. Similarly, a trial on a sugarcane farm in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal showed that using drones instead of helicopters to apply ripener, as is traditionally the case, led to a 1% increase in sugar recovery, which could translate into significantly higher revenues for farmers. 

Last but not least, you will probably have noticed how polarising the debate about whether to wear or mask or not has become. This can have some very real repercussions in food shopping aisles, as these videos aggregated by Eater show.

This summary was produced by ECRUU

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