By Daan Wensing, Global Landscapes Program Director, Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH)
Rising global demand for responsibly produced agricultural commodities means that businesses and governments in producing regions, as well as in consuming markets, are increasingly putting sustainability commitments on their agendas.
But meeting these commitments has been a challenge. Certification schemes have made progress, but they are typically focused on improving practices within single farms or commodities. That makes it difficult to address water depletion, deforestation or other land-resource management issues on a large scale.
Now, imagine if agricultural production could become sustainable across entire areas, or landscapes, and companies could source from these entire “verified sustainable” areas, like a municipality, province or state, instead of individual farms and plantations.
Sustainable sourcing of agricultural or tropical forestry commodities – such as palm oil, soy and beef – would be easier and cheaper. Companies would be able to source large volumes of commodities in line with their own and global sustainability commitments. Locally, agricultural production would become sustainable across entire landscapes.
Farmers and local government would drive sustainable development and receive incentives by global markets for doing so.
That’s the thinking behind Verified Sourcing Areas (VSAs) – a new area-based mechanism being developed and piloted by the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) and its partners around the world. This mechanism rewards the sustainability of whole regions and links that directly to local, national and global markets.
We believe VSAs could redefine sustainable trade in the next 10 years and help achieve sustainability impact at scale.
Take Mato Grosso state in Brazil, for example. A great deal of beef is produced in this landscape. But there are many small farmers who do not know how to optimize production. So, when land becomes degraded, some opt to clear more land.
We would like to change this by allowing them to invest in their land, to increase productivity and grow their income.
With the local government, civil society, farmer associations and buyers, IDH developed a sustainability plan and roadmap – the compact – to drive sustainable development in the entire region.
The vision of the partners is to make this the best beef-producing region of the country – for the quality of the meat itself, for the producers and for the environment.
We currently have a VSA readiness pilot in the region, through the Sustainable Production of Calves Program in the valley regions of Juruena and Araguaia, with Carrefour Brazil as an end buyer and Fazenda Sao Marcelo and smallholders supplying sustainable beef.
The program helps cattle farmers increase sustainable production and gain access to markets, helping accelerate economic development in the region without the need to convert forests into farmland. It has the potential to protect and restore more than 151,000 hectares (373,129 acres) of tropical forest.
Through the VSA Steering Committee, comprising industry leaders, civil society, experts and government representatives, we are overseeing the development of further pilots, including on palm oil in Aceh, Indonesia, and the VSA model more broadly.
The overall theme of the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in Bonn this year is “Connecting for impact: From commitment to action.” This is exactly what VSAs are – building partnerships to make sustainability commitments a reality. We’re excited to discuss this with our colleagues working on landscapes.