23/02/2016 - Article
Behind the many tropical products we consume, there are agricultural supply chains involving a multitude of players. Farmers, industrialists, transporters, researchers, bankers and civil servants are all working to grow, harvest, store, process, transport and sell products.
These supply chains are currently in the throes of radical technical, economic and social change. What are the consequences in terms of the environment? The economy? Society? What levers for action have the supply chains provided with a view to ensuring greater sustainability?
To address these issues, CIRAD is relying on its long experience of supporting stakeholders in numerous tropical agricultural supply chains, and on the substantial range of knowledge and partnerships it has built up. In line with the new sustainable global development programme for the next fifteen years adopted by the UN, with its 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), CIRAD hopes to make a relevant, novel contribution to a better understanding and greater consideration of the links between changes in tropical agricultural supply chains and sustainable development.
Tropical agricultural supply chains create jobs and income for huge numbers of people. The tax generated is a major resource for many countries. In numerous tropical countries, particularly the poorest, a small number of agricultural supply chains play a major role in terms of the jobs they provide, their contribution to gross domestic product (GDP), incomes, and food supplies and security.
However, with an ever more densely populated planet and growing consumption, those supply chains are consuming ever-greater amounts of resources (water, land, fossil fuels, etc). They result in waste products, pollution and wastage… Excessively low or unpredictable prices and imposed standards are keeping farmers' living standards down and exacerbating inequality.
The changes in production, trade and consumption practices are radically modifying supply chains. Increased numbers of labels and standards, such as fair trade, organic farming, sustainability standards, and social and environmental responsibility of corporations (SER) are fostering the advent of more sustainable agriculture. New supply chains are emerging as a result of new uses of resources (biofuels, biomaterials) and waste (biomass) that were previously under-used and are now sources of income.
Farmers need to invest in producing more and better, in ecological intensification, without extending their crops. Industry has to invest in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, greater resource use efficiency and optimum use of agricultural by-products and co-products. On an economic and social level, value and risks must be shared fairly, to ensure an improvement in farmers' living conditions.
Research can provide the necessary tools and knowledge to optimize resource use, design practices that respect ecosystems and the environment, and asses the impacts of supply chains with regard to sustainable development. By steering the choices made in terms of species and cropping methods, encouraging waste recycling and working with stakeholders to build indicators for impact assessments, researchers play a vital role in making the operations involved in the various supply chains more sustainable.