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 Samina,

Here are a couple of additional tactics that could be useful to build senior-level buy-in to the SDGs:

-          Develop a sophisticated business case – i.e. not focused on short-term financial return but on the longer-term need to help building sustainable societies.

-          Highlight existing initiatives by businesses in your industry (if there are) to highlight broader trends and competitive implications of not acting on the SDGs.

-          Identify other internal allies who are likely to be more receptive to the need to engage on the SDGs and who can help to influence senior leadership.

-        



Nicole Carta said:

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.

In response to Zahid's third question - one of the key things that needs to happen is to develop a more systematized and standardized way of both measuring and communicating progress against the SDGs - the SFL measurement framework is a great step forward on this - but is not comprehensive across all SDGs yet (Emily correct me if I am wrong).

Last year UNGC/Oxfam developed a framework to align use of poverty footprinting to the SDGs at light touch to deep levels depending on business appetite and resource availability etc..  In the process an extensive exercise was done on metrics and measurement.  That can be adapted and used in a variety of ways that is broader than developing poverty footprinting exercises alone.  It languishes at the moment as I understand it due to a lack of resources.

And then UNGC also has the SDG Compass and there are a number of other attempts at standardized ways of measuring.  

The main challenge is how to get away from the urge to splurge on new systems every time a new organization sees this need but to create convergence - I welcome thoughts about that.

 

We have been working on a tool to help companies understand and communicate the way in which their operations connect to the SDGs - we're launching it on 19th Sept and we hope that lots of organisations will try it out. It aims to slightly reframe the targets in a business context and very quickly articulates which Goals are critical and where there might be gaps in an organisation's strategy - I'm really excited about sharing it more widely. 

On measurement, it's the million dollar question! At this early stage, I think that it is incredibly useful for companies to share stories - of successes and failures. All the panellists have great examples of initiatives and interventions that have worked and we should be learning from and seeking to replicate these. 

Building a more quantitative picture of impact is important in the long run and has already been discussed here to some extent, but I'd echo Kate's point that it absolutely has to be collaborative, so that we have the ability to understand the aggregated impact.  

Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Thanks for the great discussion.  Let's move on to our final question:

Q3: How can business best measure and communicate its contribution to the SDGs in the smallholder supply chain context?

Dear Bello and Matti,

I believe that international development agencies could also have an important role in investing resources and making alliances with the private sector or brokering alliances between the public and private sector around the SDGs agenda in a way that it makes business sense for the private sector and it promotes more inclusive businesses around agriculture VCs. Pilot projects could demonstrate the benefits of this approach, if properly conducted and the impacts are properly measured, and bring additional resources from local or international investors.

Bello Oyedolapo said:

Thanks Matti, If I understand your opinion, it is that we try and create policies and atmosphere that favor SME and small farm holders.Should this be successful, businessess and investors would be drawn to invest.

Matti Kohonen said:

Dear Bello,

Maybe one way is to first create the policy environment for Smallholder agriculture in Nigeria with the support of SDG framework, and work on SME friendly policies in access to finance, business support and incubators to create an inclusive business policy environment - such a plan could be argued in terms of how it contributes to SDG 2 (poverty, hunger), as well as SDG 8 (decent work) to take an example of using the SDGs as a way to influence both the government and hte private sector to be more engaged in engaging with small-holder value chains.  Some companies who support SME value chains will voluntarily already wish to source more from SME small-holders, and once you have a SME-friendly policy environment, larger companies will notice such initiatives and find it easier to invest in such value-chains.  


Bello Oyedolapo said:

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 Uwe, I agree, and these are tactics we have used. However, the two most recent companies I worked with were not interested in being business leaders in this space, but were content to be in the middle of the pack because the competitive advantage of sustainable development was not compelling enough. I think measurement of impact (both short-term and long-term), along the lines of the third question, is important.

Uwe Gneiting said:

Hi Samina,

Here are a couple of additional tactics that could be useful to build senior-level buy-in to the SDGs:

-          Develop a sophisticated business case – i.e. not focused on short-term financial return but on the longer-term need to help building sustainable societies.

-          Highlight existing initiatives by businesses in your industry (if there are) to highlight broader trends and competitive implications of not acting on the SDGs.

-          Identify other internal allies who are likely to be more receptive to the need to engage on the SDGs and who can help to influence senior leadership.

-        



Nicole Carta said:

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 Zahid,

There is no single measure for SDG success for businesses but working towards making some level of ESG disclosure, carbon disclosure and tax transparent more common place is our aim in a broad way - as we have already with EU non-financial reporting, and public Country by Country tax reporting in certain sectors.  So company reporting should try to align with SDGs and their financing.

Also in other SDG areas it would be best to align as much as possible with national SDG implementation plans in order to use similar measures as what governments are using in their statistical follow-up, or measures that somehow translate to governmental measures (e.g. lists of marginalised groups identified, themes for SDG measuring that are high-priority themes for government or global review).  Also stakeholders are likely to monitor SDG success, e.g. health advocates, civil society, women’s organisations – and engaging with their priorities is a good idea of alignment.   As civil society, we will measure SDG success based on government commitments made, e.g. correlating the expected need for more tax revenue mobilisation against targets to meet universal health that governments in Africa have agreed (Abuja targets on health financing being 15% of annual budget), or advocating a more equitable and effective tax collection under SDG 17.1.  



Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Thanks for the great discussion.  Let's move on to our final question:

Q3: How can business best measure and communicate its contribution to the SDGs in the smallholder supply chain context?

I absolutely agree with you Simon.  Wouldn't it be fantastic if we could take lessons from the GHG Protocol where we now have an aligned global methodology for GHG measurement and apply this to the SDGs?  Initiatives like the SFLab performance measurement workshops & COSA (which we continue to be a strong supporter of) are a great start on this.  I think its also an opportunity to call upon each other to continue to drive for consistency, rather than create additional approaches.


 
Simon Winter said:

In response to Zahid's third question - one of the key things that needs to happen is to develop a more systematized and standardized way of both measuring and communicating progress against the SDGs - the SFL measurement framework is a great step forward on this - but is not comprehensive across all SDGs yet (Emily correct me if I am wrong).

Last year UNGC/Oxfam developed a framework to align use of poverty footprinting to the SDGs at light touch to deep levels depending on business appetite and resource availability etc..  In the process an extensive exercise was done on metrics and measurement.  That can be adapted and used in a variety of ways that is broader than developing poverty footprinting exercises alone.  It languishes at the moment as I understand it due to a lack of resources.

And then UNGC also has the SDG Compass and there are a number of other attempts at standardized ways of measuring.  

The main challenge is how to get away from the urge to splurge on new systems every time a new organization sees this need but to create convergence - I welcome thoughts about that.

 

Thank you Simon for the description of the various tools and I agree that convergence would be a good thing - with limited resources it is good not to duplicate. This is often an issue in the development industry! 

Simon Winter said:

In response to Zahid's third question - one of the key things that needs to happen is to develop a more systematized and standardized way of both measuring and communicating progress against the SDGs - the SFL measurement framework is a great step forward on this - but is not comprehensive across all SDGs yet (Emily correct me if I am wrong).

Last year UNGC/Oxfam developed a framework to align use of poverty footprinting to the SDGs at light touch to deep levels depending on business appetite and resource availability etc..  In the process an extensive exercise was done on metrics and measurement.  That can be adapted and used in a variety of ways that is broader than developing poverty footprinting exercises alone.  It languishes at the moment as I understand it due to a lack of resources.

And then UNGC also has the SDG Compass and there are a number of other attempts at standardized ways of measuring.  

The main challenge is how to get away from the urge to splurge on new systems every time a new organization sees this need but to create convergence - I welcome thoughts about that.

 

One of the ways for a business to measure its contribution to the SDG in smallholder supply chain is to look for indicators that are telltales of impact on the smallholder supply chain. Such as how it has grown in size and profit

Gianluca Nardi said:

Thank you Zahid for your question,

Defining a smart set of indicators that feed into the SDGs targets will be a key determinant of successful projects. Ideally, the indicators should also be effectively used internally and externally to monitor the progress, to learn and to make managerial decisions following what was learned.  

The indicators should also measure not only the numbers of the impacts but also the systemic changes that it is causing, the changes in the rules of the game, in the public policies and in the corporate behaviours.

Tracking the changes that are happening within the same companies would have a huge value in terms of tracking how companies are addressing issues at a deeper level that involves their business.



Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Thanks for the great discussion.  Let's move on to our final question:

Q3: How can business best measure and communicate its contribution to the SDGs in the smallholder supply chain context?

Great, Bianca, I look forward to finding more about your tool! I agree that both qualitative and quantitative measures are important.

Bianca Shead said:

We have been working on a tool to help companies understand and communicate the way in which their operations connect to the SDGs - we're launching it on 19th Sept and we hope that lots of organisations will try it out. It aims to slightly reframe the targets in a business context and very quickly articulates which Goals are critical and where there might be gaps in an organisation's strategy - I'm really excited about sharing it more widely. 

On measurement, it's the million dollar question! At this early stage, I think that it is incredibly useful for companies to share stories - of successes and failures. All the panellists have great examples of initiatives and interventions that have worked and we should be learning from and seeking to replicate these. 

Building a more quantitative picture of impact is important in the long run and has already been discussed here to some extent, but I'd echo Kate's point that it absolutely has to be collaborative, so that we have the ability to understand the aggregated impact.  

Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Thanks for the great discussion.  Let's move on to our final question:

Q3: How can business best measure and communicate its contribution to the SDGs in the smallholder supply chain context?

Great comment Gianluca, fully agree and would also underline the importance of working among sector peers to see how industries as a whole can coordinate to achieve greater results, faster. This is still new for many industries but there are certainly good models and examples of working among traditional competitors in a pre-competitive way to align efforts.  A new launch will occur  this month for agribusiness value chain actors - upstream -to mirror the consumer goods forum, called the Global Agri-Business alliance, co-launched by Olam and WBCSD.
 

 


Gianluca Nardi said:

Thank you Zahid for your question,

Defining a smart set of indicators that feed into the SDGs targets will be a key determinant of successful projects. Ideally, the indicators should also be effectively used internally and externally to monitor the progress, to learn and to make managerial decisions following what was learned.  

The indicators should also measure not only the numbers of the impacts but also the systemic changes that it is causing, the changes in the rules of the game, in the public policies and in the corporate behaviours.

Tracking the changes that are happening within the same companies would have a huge value in terms of tracking how companies are addressing issues at a deeper level that involves their business.



Zahid Torres-Rahman said:

Thanks for the great discussion.  Let's move on to our final question:

Q3: How can business best measure and communicate its contribution to the SDGs in the smallholder supply chain context?

I think one of the tricky things for companies in aligning to national SDG plans is the potential diversity of ways that individual countries are going to measure their progress and the stress that can play on companies operating across many countries.  This is where a UN level platform that engages with companies like UNGC has a critical role to play to get things more standardized and simpler.  What business platform is best to engage there?

 

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