The Sustainability of our agricultural supply chain is a priority for Coca-Cola. In 2013, Coca-Cola set a goal to more sustainably source its priority ingredients by 2020. For Coca-Cola, ‘sustainably sourced’ means its farm suppliers meet certain standards, among other requirements, relating to human and workplace rights, environmental protection and responsible farming management. Coca-Cola works with a number of suppliers globally to source ingredients for its beverages. Coca-Cola has sourced ingredients from Ingredion, a global ingredients solutions company for a number of years. We asked Brian Nash, Ingredion’s Senior Director of Sustainability to give some background on his work on ensuring a more sustainable supply chain.

What challenges have you faced in implementing a global sustainable agriculture program?

One of the first challenges that we faced was learning that the farmers in our global supply chain have different challenges in their varying geographies. In countries such as China and Thailand, most of our growers operate on smaller farms, which means there are thousands of farmers supplying us raw material. We had to determine how best to reach these growers and begin the process of assessing their operations. We encountered language and literacy barriers that had to be overcome. In geographies such as the United States and Canada, we have fewer growers but needed to educate them on our expectations. Corn growers tend to farm the same land year-after-year, so they are already great stewards of their farms. Our team had to convince some of these growers that there was value in engaging in our efforts, which we have successfully been able to do.

How were you able to address these challenges and progress your efforts?

At first, it wasn’t easy. We were faced with a number of different sustainable agriculture programs in the areas where we source crops. For example, our growers in the U.S. were familiar with Field to Market, while the farmers we purchase from in Europe used the 2BSvs sustainable biofuel program to assess their corn. In Thailand, growers were working with a Model Farmer Program, while farmers in Colombia were using a program called Colombia GAP. We realized that pursuing all these programs would make it very difficult to share best practices even within our own organization, and this was important to us so we can further advance sustainability across Ingredion. We went looking for a program that had global sustainable agriculture reach and came across the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform. We now use SAI as our global benchmark, and reference all of our efforts with local growers back to this universal standard. With that approach determined, we could then standardize training material and use more common approaches with the farmers supplying us around the world. Many of our customers (like Coca-Cola) are also SAI Platform members, which means we are aligned around the same definitions of sustainable agriculture.

SAI Program Categories:

Legal Compliance

Crop Protection

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Financial Stability

Agro-Chemicals

Market Access

Farm Management

Waste Management

Labor Conditions

Planting

Water Management

Health & Safety

Soil Management

Biodiversity

Local Community

Nutrient Management

Air

 

 

How has a standard sustainable agriculture program helped you make progress? 

It has been a real gamechanger. The SAI Farm Sustainability Assessment evaluates growers across 17 different categories, allowing us to identify areas for improvement in our various sourcing geographies. For example, in China our farmer audits identified farm chemical storage as an area that needed improvement, allowing us to focus on making improvements in that area with those growers. Identifying areas for collaboration with our growers is important, as it gives us topics of discussion for meetings with our growers and allows us to support on-farm improvements through targeted programs.  Additionally, the SAI Platform has given us access to sustainable agriculture experts and other companies that can share best practices or help us understand how to overcome hurdles that we face. The collaborative nature of the work groups has really helped us progress our efforts, moving from just over 220,000 metric tons of crops in our sustainable sourcing program in 2015 to 1,690,000 metric tons covered in 2017.

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Are there examples of successful collaborations with your growers that you can share?

We are proud of the progress we have made across the globe, as it was difficult to get our sustainable agriculture efforts initially aligned across the organization. But, there are a few efforts that stand out to me as being really impactful. In Brazil, we identified issues with growers looking for opportunities to properly recycle farm chemical containers. We started a recycling program, allowing farmers to drop off their containers at one of our plants simultaneous to making corn deliveries. Ingredion was then able to recycle the containers or properly dispose of them, also making certain that any residual chemicals in the containers stayed out of the environment.

In Pakistan, our growers have to deal with the challenges of water stress. In many cases, the availability of water directly dictates how much crops they can grow. This also limits their income from growing corn. We worked with our growers to help install drip-fed irrigation, allowing them to use water more sustainably and at optimal rates and times to support their crops. This greatly improved water efficiency, which in turn improved crop yields. Some growers reported yield increases over 30%.

In the U.S., we needed to address the onerous data collection requirements we were placing on our growers. On top of sustainable agriculture data needs, many of our growers also supply additional data for other Ingredion programs, such as crop traceability. We wanted to try to reduce the burden this put on growers to provide us with data input and find a way to increase the value these programs brought to the farmers. The solution was to partner with an outside company to improve our online data collection system. This system took the average data entry time down from an hour to less than ten minutes. The Field to Market and SAI program assessments were integrated into the system, assessing grower information across both of those programs from a single platform. However the real value to the grower is that it provides them with a report of possible on farm efficiencies in terms of dollars they could save. As an example, the system might indicate to them that they are using more fertilizer than local averages and that the reduction could potentially save them around $5,000 a year. This gave our growers a great incentive to participate in our program.

Where are you currently in your journey?

We have made great strides but know we still have a lot of work to do to reach our goals. In terms of providing Coca-Cola with sustainably sourced ingredients, we are at 100% of supply in Australia, China and Mexico, and we anticipate being at 100% in the rest of the geographies sourcing to them by the end of 2018. This has been a great journey together and a truly rewarding part of leading Ingredion’s global sustainable agriculture program.

Brian Nash is Ingredion’s Senior Director of Sustainability. His responsibilities include establishing the company’s sustainability strategy and making certain that it is aligned with the needs of Ingredion’s various stakeholders. As part of this responsibility he oversees the sustainable agriculture efforts across a supply chain that spans more than 120 countries, and collaborates with customers like Coca-Cola to make certain we are meeting supplier expectation.