Cocoa, coffee, sugar, palm oil – these are all important ingredients of some of the world’s most beloved treats and addictions. But they’re also some of the trickiest products to source sustainably and have frequently been the cause of deforestation and livelihood destruction across their chequered cultivation histories.
In recent years, consumers, governments, civil society and companies themselves have begun to demand commodities that are produced in more sustainable ways. This has led to a plethora of company commitments, platforms and initiatives that attempt to remove deforestation from major commodity chains. Such platforms include the Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA), which held its annual meeting in Colombia in early May.
The trouble is, company commitments can be tough to follow up on the ground – and can have damaging unintended consequences. Supply chains can be exceedingly complex, involving millions of people and myriad locations across the globe. As David Pendlington, global sustainable sourcing associate director for Mars Wrigley Confectionery, describes, “If you think of Mars at the very end of the value chain, it’s really hard for us to go every single step down to the ground to fully understand what’s going on.”
What’s more, recent research by scientists at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) shows that smallholders often find themselves excluded from supplying companies with zero-deforestation commitments, because it’s expensive for those companies to certify and monitor large numbers of suppliers on an ongoing basis.
That’s where a jurisdictional approach (JA) can come in handy. Under a JA, local government, civil society and the private sector work together to promote environmental and social sustainability across an entire political territory, or ‘jurisdiction.’ This approach leverages the policy and regulatory framework that a jurisdiction provides and highlights the critical leadership role of governments. Through public-private partnerships, buyers can, in theory, procure the products they want – from producers of any size – with a high degree of certainty as to their environmental and social credentials.
A recent study by Earth Innovation Institute and CIFOR analyzes progress on jurisdictional approaches by 39 states and provinces in 12 countries, which hold 28 percent of the world’s tropical forests. These governments have made clear commitments toward reducing deforestation, and nearly half are engaging with companies seeking sustainable sourcing for their products. But robust public-private partnerships are still lacking. In a conversation among the lead study authors at CIFOR, they describe ways to move these partnerships forward.
Mars is one of the few companies really leading the way.
“The jurisdictional approach makes a lot of sense to us,” says Pendlington, “because if you get it right, you’ve got a single point you can go to, for working with the right people on the right solutions. In our experience, those on the ground usually have the best ideas about what really needs to happen.”
His company is part of a new project in North Sumatra and Aceh, Indonesia, called the Coalition for Sustainable Livelihoods, which is aiming to do just that. Pendlington says the project came about two years ago, when he was working on sustainable supply chains for palm oil and thinking, “How on Earth do we make a difference at scale for climate change and sustainable livelihoods?”
Pendlington observed that there were thousands of projects happening on the ground in key landscapes – but “not a lot of joining up.” So, he began building and deepening connections with international organizations, local grassroots NGOs and other companies working in the same area – as well as with local government, communities and businesses. Eventually, the actors created a coalition to link their projects together, which they launched in Medan, North Sumatra late last year.
“It’s humbling and a privilege to meet with the parties face-to-face and really understand what their challenges are,” says Pendlington. “When you hear specifics from the communities, things like ‘We’re recovering from tsunamis; we’re getting over a civil war; we’re battling poverty,’ you can better pinpoint the type of action that will be most impactful.”
The coalition members also recognized that while there was plenty of funding for things like conservation and smallholder training, “what really needs to be built is capability and capacity for local government,” says Pendlington. “They never have enough people on the ground.”
“So the capacity for modern land use planning and building the infrastructure and resources just isn’t there,” he adds. From that perspective, it made sense to use a JA to channel donor money into local governance and create effective infrastructure “from the bottom up.”
For donors like Mars and Danone’s Livelihoods Fund for Family Farmers, having these kinds of “aggregation points” can be extremely useful, says Pendlington. They can disburse funds to those points in the knowledge that they’re going towards solutions supported by communities and local government “rather than thousands of programs and projects scattered around the place,” he says. “So it’s a way of bringing scale and efficiency for us.”
Will it help Mars’ business in the long run? “I think the reality is we’ve got a better chance of good outcomes by putting our skin in the game with everybody else’s through a jurisdictional approach,” says Pendlington.