An expert sounds off on how to create a more transparent food supply chainAn expert sounds off on how to create a more transparent food supply chain
Industry expert Udi Lazimy offers solid tips on ways those working within the food system can make it more sustainable for everyone, from small farmers and producers to larger companies with deep pockets.
This is the second article in the series co-authored by Udi Lazimy and T. Callahan of Lazimy Regenerative Impact Partners, which explores transparent sourcing as a fundamental facet of building a food system with integrity. Read the first article here.
Before we can have an honest conversation about the food we eat, we must talk about where our food comes from. There are at least three fundamental pillars to ethical sourcing: Sustainable production, fairness of trade and transparency. While equally important, the latter will prove instrumental in facilitating the evolution of all three.
More than a quarter of the workforce works in agriculture, the majority of which are smallholder farmers, many of whom are still subsistence growers. That’s nearly 1 billion people, according to UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Traditionally, global markets have done little to protect the integrity of these suppliers, often making it frustratingly difficult, if not downright impossible, for consumers and brands alike to trace their supply chain back to the hands that tended the fields, the source. Also important, consumers are starting to demand more from the brands they purchase.
Thanks to an increasingly connected world, suppliers that were once isolated are finding innovative ways to connect with markets around the globe. This provides an incredible opportunity for the market to live up to what we believe it means to eat with integrity. As an example, when we provide sustainable sourcing solutions to food brands, we are able to connect with farmer cooperatives and social enterprise groups on the ground in communities throughout our global network, understanding their needs and directly supporting them through transparent supply partnerships.
As globalization increases, an ethical food system demands that farmers, processors, distributors and consumers are informed at critical junctures along the way. Sourcing ingredients transparently means knowing if valuable, carbon-rich ecosystems like rainforests were cleared in order to produce them, or if corrupt or even genocidal regimes benefited from their sale.
The agri-food industry simply cannot be sustained if it continues to enrich a consolidated few while leaving downstream producers in a cycle of poverty. More importantly, neither can the planet. True transparency will demand that we diversify and decentralize food systems where possible—a welcomed antidote to the opaque nature of global trade as it exists in large part today.
The advent of technologies such as the blockchain present new and exciting opportunities to strengthen supply chains in areas that once permitted gross negligence and even malfeasance to determine the status quo. While consumers have a right to know how their products are sourced, it remains to be seen which brands will implement cutting-edge solutions, setting the tone for the industry at large.
For example, One Mighty Mill, which produces bagels, bread, pretzels, flours and mixes, is helping illustrate this point. Recognizing how depleted chemically farmed and industrially milled flours had become, they hyper-localized their supply chain in favor of building lasting relationships with producers and consumers alike. What started with a single stone mill in Lynn, Massachusetts, has grown to 10 and counting across the northeast and California. Cultivating relationships with regenerative organic farmers, they’ve folded their mission into each step along the way.
While decentralizing may sound destabilizing to some, it can be useful to frame it another way: Democracy. As technologist Kyle Humphrey echoes in a recent LinkedIn piece, Feeding the Future: “Technology can empower communities and individuals to take control of their food supply, challenge the power of the food industry and lobby, and create a more diverse and democratic food system.”
Indeed, many brands have increasingly been exploring and implementing transparent sourcing programs, and we are thrilled when a company turns to our team for help to achieve transparency in their supply chains. From working to develop regenerative crop production systems with social enterprise farmer organizations in Southeast Asia to meet the demands of Western consumers, to ensuring that a plant-based food company in the United States has traceable, domestically produced, functional proteins for its formulations, we continue to demonstrate a more transparent sourcing program that is both in demand and achievable.
When it comes to food, there is a lot at stake: Our health, the health of our local economies, even the health of the very planet on which all of this is supported. How we choose to do business will do more than impact the world around us; it will determine the legacy we leave. As technology threatens to divide us further or bring us closer together, the Earth starts to look more like a glass house in which we all live. Increasing transparency will either reveal our shortcomings or let more light in. That part is up to us.
With more than 20 years leading sustainable food system policy and innovation at companies and organizations like Eat Just, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Beyond Meat, Organic Farming Research Foundation, Patagonia and others, Lazimy and Callahan hope to encourage new approaches to the challenges that face the U.S. food system with an emphasis on the burgeoning plant-based industry.
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