Why brands must partner with farmers -- like never before

Why brands must partner with farmers -- like never before

With the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report painting an alarming picture about the future food supply, the organic industry is already feeling the effects.

As we documented in the last newsletter, 40% of the U.S. organic food production is in jeopardy and some organic farmers in California are currently unable to use up to 75% of their land because of a lack of water. Similar situations are playing out throughout the rest of the world.

The question for many organic brands is: what can they do to both help support the planet and ensure a consistent supply of raw ingredients to meet the needs of their customers going forward?

For Elizabeth Whitlow, Executive Director of the Regenerative Organic Alliance, the answer is clear.

“Brands need to be prepared to support farmers in ways they haven’t done in the past. This means recognizing the challenges that farmers face, helping to provide stability in their communities and becoming true partners with them. On a very practical level, it is making sure they get the technical assistance that they need because farmers are not in a position where they can take chances when deciding how to tackle problems in their soil. There is no margin for error.”

Aside from the drought, many farmers are now facing new issues with insects or weeds, and successful regenerative techniques, such as cover crops or no-tillage, can vary depending on a farm’s geography. What works in California won’t necessarily be effective in Pennsylvania. Or in Africa.

Tradin Organic, a global supplier and distributor of organic ingredients, is very active in all parts of the world, including Africa, and it has invested heavily to build regenerative organic supply chains in this region.

In Sierra Leone, the company has been dedicating a tremendous amount of time, energy and resources to get its regenerative organic cacao project off the ground, not only to build the infrastructure and social pillars within the community but also to create more resilient farmland.

“The farmers in Sierra Leone have been dealing with less water than before and low soil fertility,” said Karst Kooistra, Sourcing Development Director at Tradin Organic. “We’ve been working with them to implement proven techniques, such as reforestation, the planting of fruit trees and a vermin compost project, all with the goal of improving soil fertility, sequestering carbon and improving yields.”

On the other side of Africa, in Ethiopia, Tradin Organic has built an organic avocado supply chain from scratch.Through farmer field schools and input provisions, Tradin helped farmers adopt regenerative agroforestry practices and had themgrow avocado trees on organic coffee farms, so as to provide important shade for the coffee. 

In order to help get this project off the ground and make it a viable, long-term success, Tradin joined forces with Nutiva, who not only created a market for this product in the U.S. but invested heavily in the project itself, well before the avocados were available for purchase.

“This partnership provides conflict-free organic avocado oil made from peacefully sourced and fully traceable Ethiopian avocados that give back to local communities through education and fair, transparent pricing,” said Steven Naccarato, CEO of Nutiva. “During the last four years, the supply network has grown to include more than 78,000 organically certified smallholder farmers whose livelihoods are bolstered by these new relationships. By diversifying the crops that they grow and sell, farmers increase the biodiversity of the land they steward and their income streams. This is all part of our mission to revolutionize the way the world eats.”

Back in the U.S., challenges on the West Coast are immense, and resources are not always available — both of which make involvement from brands even more critical.

“At the state level in California, there is a real funding gap for providing important technical expertise, particularly for BIPOC and Spanish-speaking farmers,” put forth Nathanael Gonzales-Siemens, Organic Agriculture Consultant for Western States & Specialty Crops at Rodale Institute. “Forward-thinking brands would be well-advised to become true partners with farmers and help get them trained on regenerative organic techniques. This will greatly assist them in managing the drought and sequestering more carbon, while simultaneously developing and diversifying a brand’s farmer base. Not only is this the smart thing to do, but it’s the right thing to do — for the well-being of farmers and for the viability of our long-term food supply.” 

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