How can business harness the SDGs for greater impact in smallholder agricultural value chains?

Since September 2015, when nearly 200 United Nations member states adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), many companies have been analysing their sustainability targets and strategies to better understand how they can contribute to the delivery of shared global development priorities. 

 

Through agricultural value chains and smallholder sourcing programmes, the private sector has an opportunity to contribute to a number of SDGs and targets, including those aimed at reducing poverty, doubling agricultural productivity, creating decent work, and promoting women’s empowerment. As a start point, many companies operating in this area have undertaken extensive mapping exercises to clarify how their existing strategies and programmes align with relevant SDGs—primarily to inform internal engagement and dialogue with external stakeholders.

 

Whilst this foundational work is important, a growing number of companies are now asking themselves and their partners how they can harness the SDGs to spur even greater impact for the business and for smallholders. To provide answers to this challenge, Business Fights Poverty has teamed up with the Sustainable Food Lab, Mars, SABMiller and DFID to develop guidance for businesses with smallholder sourcing strategies on how to harness the SDGs for greater impact. This online discussion aims to inform the development of this guidance by exploring the following questions:   

 

  • What role can the SDGs play in helping a business think about its impacts on agricultural value chains and smallholder farmers?  Practically speaking, how can a business use the SDGs to spur more development impact for smallholders in agricultural value chains?

 

  • What are the most relevant SDGs in a smallholder sourcing context and how should businesses prioritise their engagement?

 

  • How can business best measure and communicate its contribution to the SDGs in the smallholder supply chain context?

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Hi Nicole,

You're right that each organisation (NGO, business, government agency) will look at where their impact on SDGs will be the most relevant, but I'd urge also to look at a dynamic model to understand and map what expectations SDGs create for different actors due to the monitoring framework, and the level of commitment in different countries.  In India for instance, the "my clean India" initiative by the Modi government may mean a lot more investment in water and sanitation infrastructure and projects, companies in this sector are likely do find new business opportunities in India - and voluntary initiatives to improve water access to rural communities will be closely watched by NGOs who follow the implementation of the initiative.   

Nicole Carta said:

Whether it be SDG2 and committing to invest in local, rural based agri-processing facilities, thereby enabling job creation, more secure local markets for farmers, and improved nutrition, or SDG 3 by offering healthcare and health education to workers in your company’s factory in a developing country because healthy workers are productive workers, link your commitments and KPIs – that speak to core business - to the SDGs/targets and indicators and it can serve to reach greater success together.

Thank you Matti. I agree that making the business case is critical, but I sometimes struggle with communicating that message to people who haven't even heard of the SGDs, or in companies who do not have the drive to be leaders in this space, and are simply content with being on the sidelines! I hadn't thought of the link in terms of aligning with government spending as a way to think of new business opportunities. 

I think some of the resources and real-world examples provided by the panelists will be useful tools.

Matti Kohonen said:


Hi Samina,

My advice is that making the business case is critical to senior management.  SDGs provide signals of where governments are likely to focus in terms of their government spending, but also in terms of industrial policy as areas like climate change and decent work are SDG goals and targets. So there will be new business opportunities if you consieder that there is now a greater likelihood of some of these goals being met (and MDG period does show that the goals / targets do drive policy).   Besides policy guidance, now the SDGs are supposed to provide a road map for the private sector as well - so expect other busineses to align with the SDG framework, and this creates new investable opportunities that you'd need to map in a number of countries.  


Samina Jain said:

What advice do you have of linking the SGDs with the business case and raising awareness of the SGDs, beyond a one-off powerpoint explaining them to your senior executives?

Great question, Bianca! I would love to hear thoughts on this as well.

Bianca Shead said:

A question to the panel from me and I'd love to hear answers based both on real experience as well as expectations:

To what extent are the SDGs being integrated into and aligned with national development priorities? Clearly there will be a huge variation across different countries but are there any particularly good examples? Smallholder agriculture is an area where you would hope to see significant alignment pretty quickly. 

My name is Paul from Nairobi. I have two issues to raise. First is the issue of fair play in the corporate field. I saw that the new DFID strategy allocates £3.7 b to British Business market access strategies as part of its aid agenda. Several European countries also have this cushioning to their companies to give them soft landing in developing economies and help in risk mitigation. But what does this do to local companies and small holders who don't have this offer? And should DFID and rest of Europe classify this ad Aid?
2. My second question is about SDG risks. There is alot of discussion about what business can do and the incentives they need,including risk mitigation. But J hear little about what business Should NOT do and how multinationals can ensure they also protect governments when they become risky or make investments that cost governments. Should we also not talk of what businesses need to stop doing to achieve the SDGs?

Dolapo from Male Centre of Excellence. Nigeria as an example is a developing country and with the SDG not really known to many people, it is virtually a difficult task to get businesses to invest in the agricultural sector much less to think in terms of sustainable development. Much agriculture done here is on the subsistence level. How can we get business to harness SDG to develop small farmholders in Nigeria bearing in mind that situations prevalent here are different from that in other countries?

Thank you Nicole, this directly relates to my previous comment, and I am interested in the experience of the panelists and other members of this discussion.


Nicole Carta said:

Hi Kate,

IFAD hosted an event a few years ago on land rights, and I heard one of the panelists --- who was a sustainable sourcing exec at a major consumer goods company -- comment that while he and his peers understood the need for more socially inclusive and sustainable sourcing, the C-suite executives were still looking for clear and straight-forward business strategies on how get it done so to speak.  He was struggling with how to explain to his senior leadership that much of this work is not as straight forward as new business expansion planning for example, and how to convince them to go in it for the long run, and perhaps even at a loss in the first years.  Do you find that the SDG agenda is providing enough entry points for business in a truly meaningful way, which also addresses the real need for business to make a profit while at the same time doing so in a more inclusive and sustainable manner?  (Open to all thoughts from panel and participants of course!)
 
Kate Wylie said:

Hi there - an additional benefit we have found is that aligning our strategy or programmes to the SDGs can help illustrate to senior management the significance of the work within the broader global context.  It demonstrates that the efforts within one company form part of a far larger cross sector, global movement.

Hi Nicole

There are many business benefits for sustainable development, for example supply security, employee retention, business growth opportunities, licence to operate etc.  Some deliver short-term benefits and some are more long-term.  As with driving any business change in an organisation we need to develop a suite of tools and a series of engagement strategies to take the business on the journey of change, whilst also proving the business case.  The business case must be made relevant to the specific business operations.  I see the SDGs as one of the tools to help support this internal conversation.  
 
Nicole Carta said:

Hi Kate,

IFAD hosted an event a few years ago on land rights, and I heard one of the panelists --- who was a sustainable sourcing exec at a major consumer goods company -- comment that while he and his peers understood the need for more socially inclusive and sustainable sourcing, the C-suite executives were still looking for clear and straight-forward business strategies on how get it done so to speak.  He was struggling with how to explain to his senior leadership that much of this work is not as straight forward as new business expansion planning for example, and how to convince them to go in it for the long run, and perhaps even at a loss in the first years.  Do you find that the SDG agenda is providing enough entry points for business in a truly meaningful way, which also addresses the real need for business to make a profit while at the same time doing so in a more inclusive and sustainable manner?  (Open to all thoughts from panel and participants of course!)
 
Kate Wylie said:

Hi there - an additional benefit we have found is that aligning our strategy or programmes to the SDGs can help illustrate to senior management the significance of the work within the broader global context.  It demonstrates that the efforts within one company form part of a far larger cross sector, global movement.

Again I think we have to look at this through different lenses - firstly those Goals & Targets which are most likely to have a material impact on a business and, secondly, those national priorities which a company chooses to also support. 

Eg any business with agricultural value chains will be interested in 2.4 on a whole number of levels - operational, reputational, growth opportunities and linked to national priorities:

Ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality

Hi Kate,

I think all the SDGs are important, and it's really useful to look at what other actors also find as being important.  Many NGos will find the goal 5 on 'achieve gender equality' absolutely essential, as it's about addressing a systemic issue which was not really well defined in the MDGs where it was about equal access to education and representation in parliaments.   Another SDG goal 10 on inequlaity is also really important, as we find that economic and social inequality can create situations of marginatlisation, and inequality correlates with many health, education indicators as a root cause.   Finally, goal 17 on means of implementation is important - as this is where the capabilities both financing and technology are addressed.  The whole Financing for Development processes is included in Goal 17 in scaling up public and private financing for SDGs and as Christian Aid we focus a lot on this process as a condition in meeting the SDGs in the first place. 

So I'd encourage maybe to map both your own business impact (what can you do as a business), and what other stakeholders (government, NGOs) are expecting from a responsible business to address in terms of SDGs.

Kate Wylie said:

Through our analysis we think these are the most relevant:

Goal 1 :

Goal 2 :

Goal 8 :

Hi Bianca, this is a very good question indeed. As I said in a previous comment, I know some of the Ghana experience from my work on Cocoa Life and other projects there, and the Government if effectively organizing consulation and coordination around the SDGs agenda. I cannot say what are the concrete results so far and I should and to CARE staff in the country. From my previous experience with the MDGs, the national development plans in many countries were designed around that agenda, including in central America, where I was working at that time. This is also pushed by International Financial Institutions like the World Bank and by international agencies like USAID, UKAID and others who fund some of the projects that are linked to this agenda. 

Emily Shipman said:

Great question, Bianca! I would love to hear thoughts on this as well.

Bianca Shead said:

A question to the panel from me and I'd love to hear answers based both on real experience as well as expectations:

To what extent are the SDGs being integrated into and aligned with national development priorities? Clearly there will be a huge variation across different countries but are there any particularly good examples? Smallholder agriculture is an area where you would hope to see significant alignment pretty quickly. 

Hi Samina,

I just posed a similar question above to Kate, as many of my partners in the private sector are struggling with similar issues in building the case to senior management.  I believe that by focusing on the shared-value approach to business strategies and projects, which aim to bring business value to the company in a way that ensures value through the supply chain (so livable wages for workers/fair price points for SHs/environmentally safe working conditions), and presenting these strategies to senior leadership that can speak to their own business needs as well, you will get a lot more buy-in. You can then tie these approaches to the SDGs by linking to the relevant targets and indicators, and share with management that in fact, their projects will also support a global effort to combat poverty and inequality in the world (i.e. the SDGs).  Starting with the business case up front can perhaps make the SDGs more approachable.    
 
Samina Jain said:

Hi - my name is Samina Jain, a corporate responsibility and sustainable development professional with a deep interest in agricultural value chains, although my most recent experience has been in energy and water services.

I agree with the panelists' comments, but in my experience, senior managers with budgetary authority are not as aware of the SGDs, versus the subject matter experts within the company.

What advice do you have of linking the SGDs with the business case and raising awareness of the SGDs, beyond a one-off powerpoint explaining them to your senior executives?

Thank you.

Hi everyone
At a high level, many large multinational companies have already mapped their existing/planned activities to the SDGs (many of them mapping their sustainable sourcing commitments to SDG 15 - life on land).   Regarding prioritization: some examples: Coca Cola only maps its sustainable sourcing commitments to SDG 15; whereas SABMiller maps its sustainable sourcing goals to multiple SDGs (e.g. 1, 2,5,8,15).  There is a challenge with prioritizing a limited number of SDGs - for example linking sustainable sourcing only to SDG 15 limits the potential direct synergies between the SDGs and sustainable sourcing agendas largely to environmental smallholder issues such as biodiversity, deforestation, etc. rather than economic ones, such as poverty, productivity, food security, etc.  I think that there are obvious ones that need to be prioritized for sustainable sourcing from smallholders: #1 (poverty) and #2 (food security) - but the key is to look across all of them to link what companies want to do to where they see value both for themselves and smallholders. 
There seem to be a couple of areas in which companies could be encouraged to more closely connect their sustainable sourcing strategies to the SDGs in order to enhance their impact on SHF:
  • More systematically linking their sustainable sourcing strategies to all relevant SDGs (esp #1,#2, as well as #5 -women's empowerment), and using that to inform how they measure sustainable sourcing, linked to emerging standardized measurement systems such as SFLs, which will influence where they focus any investment or supplier guidance.  This would encourage more consistent measurement and investment from companies linked to key smallholder themes, such as food security, women, ag productivity, and climate resilience.  This will also enable companies to better communicate their existing sustainable sourcing initiatives and accomplishments in a way that advances progress against relevant SDGs (e.g. Coca-Cola's sustainability criteria touch on many of the targets under SDG #1 and #2 already)
  • Doing a reverse mapping/gap analysis to identify additional areas in which SDGs align with their business agendas.  Many companies have mapped their existing work to SDGs, and highlight those SDGs to which they're already bound to contribute. 
Finally, a question: have any companies looked at SDGs which they're not currently prioritizing to see if there would be a business case for them to contribute to these additional areas?



Gianluca Nardi said:

The connection between smallholder producers and some of the SDGs is pretty obvious in some cases, while in other cases there is an indirect or optional relationship:

  • Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere and Goal 2:  End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture are probably the most obvious connection in terms of impact on the direct beneficiaries, the smallholders.
  • Goal 5:  Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls represents a marked difference with the previous set of MDGs and an additional opportunity to achieve an SDG and at the same time having a huge impact in the VC in terms.
  • Goals 3,4, 6 and 7 (access to education, healthy lives, WASH, energy) can be linked to the community development dimension of the community level interventions across the VC. This is not a component that is necessarily part of the VC development strategies, but can be part of more holistic interventions.
  • Goal 8:  Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth and Goal 10:  Reduce inequality within and among countries represent a macro level dimension of the possible impact of the business in a market system, especially.
  • Goal 16:  Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development is an interesting dimension of using inclusive economic development’s tools like the VSLAs to build social capital.
  • Other SDGs (e.g. 12, 13, 15) can also offer additional options of tremendous impact in the environmental  dimension, sustainable patterns of production and consumption and climate change dimensions through working with smallholder producers.

The issue of prioritization is a difficult one as obviously interventions cannot address many SDGs at the same time with limited resources. The prioritization depends on the companies’ internal priorities, on the best opportunities of achieving impact on the ground, and on the partnerships that can be put in place to join forces and expertise around specific topics. Work in partnership should be a key strategy to reach scale of impact and broaden its scope. (e.g. consider the holistic approach of Mondelez’ Cocoa Life partnership) and also a way of contributing to SDG 17.



Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Thanks for all the great points!  Let's move onto the next question:

Q2: What are the most relevant SDGs in a smallholder sourcing context and how should businesses prioritise their engagement?

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