A new way of doing business. From sustainability to regeneration

04 Feb 2023

Large mass consumption companies are setting their sights on regenerative agriculture.

“It is no longer enough to do no harm to the planet; we must do good to it. This premise was the kick-off for different corporations to rethink their businesses and move towards regenerative production practices at a global and local level.

Regenerate means to give new life to something that has degenerated, restore it or improve it. This is how the Royal Spanish Academy defines it. According to The Nature Conservancy, regenerative agricultural systems seek to improve the conditions of nature and guarantee water and food for people.

Specifically, what differentiates this system from the traditional one? “Traditional agriculture was based on modifying the environment, mainly the soil, so that seeds could express their genetic potential. This brought us many benefits, but today we are reaping problems that we must reverse,” explains Rodolfo Gil, an expert in soil conservation and management at INTA. And he adds: “Now we are looking for the opposite: we must adapt the plant and the technology to each environment, so that the environment expresses the maximum production potential with the minimum disturbance”.

Regenerative production practices are aligned with the sustainable development goals set by the UN for 2030, and make more sense when looking at the big picture. FAO estimates that agriculture will need to produce almost 50% more food, fiber and biofuels in 2050 than in 2012 to meet demand. Also, according to the agency, there are nearly 200 million hectares of degraded land in Latin America and the Caribbean, while their reclamation could help meet the need and translate into US$23 billion in net benefits over 50 years. Currently, the region accounts for about 14% of production and 23% of global agricultural and fisheries exports, but has room to increase its contribution, he says in the document Sustainable and Resilient Agriculture: Opportunities for Post-Covid Recovery.

One of the first companies to opt for regenerative agriculture was Switzerland’s Nestlé, when in late 2020 it published a roadmap for achieving the goal of zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It is that, according to the company, almost two-thirds of its emissions come from the sourcing of ingredients. “We are looking to source 20% of our key ingredients through regenerative agriculture by 2025 and 50% by 2030. That is equivalent to more than 14 million tons,” explains Verónica Rosales, Sustainability Leader at Nestlé Argentina.

Currently and locally, this initiative has a scope for the development of dairy products of the Nido and Svelty brands. After three years of work, accompanying more than 15 dairy farmers in different provinces, today the company has the first organic milk powder in the country certified by the International Organization for Animal Husbandry. This implies complying with the standards, taking care of the dairy ecosystem, respecting the natural behavior of the cows, promoting biodiversity and not using agrochemicals. In parallel, in 2022, Nestlé relaunched the Nescafé Plan 2030, through which it works with coffee farmers in seven regions where it sources 90% of its coffee: Brazil, Vietnam, Mexico, Colombia, Ivory Coast, Indonesia and Honduras. “A change of mindset is fundamental. Today we have a much more conscious consumer, who aspires to acquire food and beverages without harming nature and the environment,” emphasizes Rosales.

Long-term approach

The U.S. company PepsiCo presented PepsiCo Positive in 2021, a global strategy to transform its business from start to finish. One of its pillars is the so-called “positive agriculture”, which encompasses regenerative agricultural practices, which are already implemented in almost 140,000 hectares. The goal: to reach 2.8 million in 2030.

Lay’s and Pehuamar potato chips; oatmeal, cereals and Quaker cookies; and Doritos and Tostitos corn tortillas are some of the products on which this initiative has a direct impact in Argentina. “We incorporated new potato varieties with better yields and quality; we are conducting trials with organic fertilizers and microorganisms for integrated pest control; and we were pioneers in the adoption of direct sowing in corn and oats,” says Diego Serantes, general manager at PepsiCo Alimentos. And he adds: “One of the challenges is to ensure that environmentally sustainable practices are also economically sustainable. At the moment, with several actions already implemented, farmers have reported a drop of close to 30% in water consumption and a reduction in the use of agrochemicals”.

“Tomorrow’s businesses will be those that anticipate and respond to the major changes that shape people’s lives, including climate change. There is no Planet B; this is our home and we have to take care of it,” says Maria Bulla, Corporate Responsibility and Social Impact Manager at Unilever. And she stresses: “Sustainable business is the only way to do business, and it has been proven that it is also an engine for growth. We are determined to prove it.

In this line, the Anglo-Dutch company has had an agreement with INTA for 30 years, which has allowed it, for example, to develop specific vegetable cultivars for the dehydration process, to sustain competitiveness and even to export. Within this framework, last October, a new agreement was signed to promote new technologies, tools and support programs with a regenerative approach among small producers in the Cuyo area. There, 13 varieties of vegetables are grown and processed at the Mendoza plant. This is Unilever’s only dehydrator in the world, which employs more than 400 families. Specifically, around 15,000 tons of raw vegetables per year are used to produce soups, broths, dehydrated products and Knorr condiments.

Producers network

Based in the province of Mendoza, Grupo Broda was also born more than 70 years ago. Led by brothers Santiago and Joaquín Barbera, of the fourth generation, the organization has presence in different verticals, such as gastronomy, retail and real estate, and in 2022 created its own company builder, with which it expands into businesses of the new economy, under two pillars: innovation and sustainability. “We decided to develop a company of natural and regenerative inputs for the pharmaceutical and food industry. And our first project was honey, which is widely used in different medicines such as cough syrups,” say the Barbera brothers.

Grupo Broda works with a network of small rural producers in the Gran Chaco Americano, the second largest biome in Latin America. It provides them with financing and accompaniment so that they can have their own beehives, and guarantees the purchase of the product, which is then purchased in bulk by large companies or fractioned. Last year, the company purchased 500 tons, equivalent to US$2.5 million, and this year it expects to quadruple the figures.

At the international level, Irish beer company Guinness launched a three-year regenerative agriculture pilot program for barley production in 2022, to contribute to “grain-to-glass” sustainability. The first phase started with more than 40 farms in Ireland, on 1400 hectares, with the aim of then scaling up to other countries. “The program aims to achieve five key results: improvements in soil health and carbon sequestration potential; increased biodiversity; reduction in the use of synthetic fertilizers; improvements in water quality; and improvements in agricultural profitability and farmers’ livelihoods,” says Tomas Farrell, manager of beers and RTD for the Southern Cone of Diageo, owner of the Guinness brand. In Argentina, since 2021, Guinness is brewed by the Rabieta craft brewery at its plant located in Pilar.

Source: La Nación