Food and Water

Regenerative food systems can change the story of how agriculture impacts climate change

Nobutho Thethani harvests potatoes at her farm in Lawley informal settlement in the south of Johannesburg, South Africa. Regenerative food systems can help guarantee a future supply of food, while supporting farmers.

Regenerative food systems can help guarantee a future supply of food, while supporting farmers. Image: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Tania Strauss
Head, Food and Water, World Economic Forum
Jim Andrew
Executive Vice-President; Chief Sustainability Officer, PepsiCo
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This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate
  • Farmers often carry the heaviest burden to access the capital, technology and knowledge needed for the climate transition.
  • All actors in the value chain, from brand owners to retailers to distributors to consumers, have a role in supporting farmers with this transition.
  • Through initiatives like the First Movers Coalition for Food, companies and countries are coming together to show demand for sustainably produced foods and giving farmers the market confidence to transition.

Embracing regenerative farming globally could help provide a third of the land-based climate action needed by 2030. By scaling regenerative agriculture, the global food system has the potential to play a significant role in tackling greenhouse gas emissions while delivering additional environmental benefits. However, a significant transformation of how food is grown and produced is needed to bridge the gap to that ambition.

A market-wide transition to low-emission food commodities using sustainable and regenerative farming practices is needed. PepsiCo previously shared that three action areas were required to transform food systems, including strategic partnerships to scale impact. PepsiCo and other organizations convened by the World Economic Forum have since announced the First Movers Coalition for Food (FMC for Food), which seeks to build demand for sustainable and regenerative methods by harnessing the collective efforts of industry leaders.

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Leveraging the power of aggregated demand

All actors in the food value chain can play a role in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, this needs to happen around shared principles of sustainability to maximize the potential environmental and economic benefits. Together, at the FMC for Food, we can build consensus on sustainable sourcing of foods and create demand for climate smart commodities. Through collective action, the FMC for Food can help the world’s food systems hit net zero by 2050, while also bringing other positive impacts including for the planet, food security and improving farmer livelihoods.

An essential consideration for this new coalition is to minimize the costs and demands required of farmers to switch to sustainable growing practices. Currently, the financial, technical and social costs of transitioning land heaviest on farmers. They face challenges like access to trusted and objective technical advice and new technologies, upfront costs for new equipment, seeds and other inputs and the potential reduction in short-term yields. They also often see gaps in financing due to the perceived risk of these investments. Farmers consistently express worries about the increasing obligations imposed on them, coupled with the lack of clear demand for regenerative and sustainable products.

This needs to change, and all actors in the value chain have a role in enabling this transition.

To accelerate the adoption of sustainable production methods and technologies to reach tipping points for systems-level change within the agri-food system, FMC for Food aims to leverage demand signals. Alongside new and existing investments to support the transformation towards sustainable production, this will provide the de-risking required to scale up emerging innovations and farming transition towards more low carbon practices.

Shaping change to benefit consumers

We can leverage the deep connections that consumers have with brands to help them understand the relationship between what they eat, how it’s grown and how it impacts the planet.

For example, Lay's and Walkers are highlighting the role farmers and regenerative agriculture play in sourcing ingredients for their products and contributing to a more sustainable food system.

Golden Grows Here is a campaign showcasing Lay's sustainably sourced potatoes and the farms that cultivate them. This campaign demonstrates that every bag of Lay's is made from real potatoes, sustainably sourced from over 100 farms across the US. In India, Lay’s launched Project Farm Equal in collaboration with the US Agency for International Development. This project not only aims to boost yields but provides holistic support for female farmers, including technical and financial training programmes. In the UK, Walkers recently featured farmers in We Love Potatoes commercials and in Brazil, Lay’s showcased the farmers who grow potatoes for the brand on packs.

PepsiCo is not the only company making these connections for consumers. The power of the FMC for Food is that we can help catalyze impact by encouraging more companies to take similar actions. By building demand, we can give farmers the market confidence to transition and enable the additional support (e.g., transition financing) needed to further the transformation of our food systems.

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How others can follow suit

We are just at the beginning; as we see more partnerships forming to reshape food systems sustainably, FMC for Food will continue to champion sustainable procurement. What’s special about FMC for Food is that it’s about coming together to rethink how we procure and buy in a different way so we can help enable this transition through the power of an aggregated market demand.

The FMC for Food will be convening stakeholders at a regional level in China at the Annual Meeting of the New Champions in June. The coalition will also gather in New York, USA at the Sustainable Development Impact Meetings in September, and B20 in Brazil in October, to focus on exchanging knowledge about procurement and cross-commodity challenges such as the regeneration of agricultural landscapes.

Together, we can help drive a global shift towards net-zero food production and procurement and, at the same time, build a brighter future for our farmers. Sustainable food systems can change the story of agriculture in climate change.

PepsiCo’s latest progress on scaling regenerative and sustainable agriculture can be reviewed in its 2023 ESG Summary.

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