27 JAN 2022
Addressing climate change with better food systems
By Eugene Willemsen, CEO Africa, Middle East and South Asia, PepsiCo
It comes as no surprise that climate change directly affects the future of security. A report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) clearly outlines the role that the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather-related disasters, such as droughts, cyclones, and wildfires, play in multiplying threats for the low-income demographic, particularly the undernourished. Combined with the global pandemic and ongoing regional conflict, climate change has devastating effects on food production and availability. Amongst the most significant of its effects, asides from reducing crop yields, is the havoc it wreaks on quality and nutritional value, stability of food systems, water availability, livelihoods and access to food.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) a global temperature rise of 1.38 to 5.55 degrees Celscius is forecasted in the next century. And as temperatures increase, yields for the world’s most essential crops, which provide over 66% of the world’s calories, will take a nosedive. A NASA studypredicts a projected decline of maize yields to 24% as early as 2030 under a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario. Currently, one-third of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to the rising temperatures, come from the global food system. So, if we want sustainable food security for our children and generations to come, it’s high time we come together to find far reaching solutions and take large-scale action.
At PepsiCo, our business relies on a stable and healthy climate to grow nutritious ingredients that go into our food. Therefore, we cannot afford to sit idle waiting for climate change solutions – we need to act. We are doing our part through pep+ (PepsiCo Positive) – PepsiCo’s end-to-end transformation with sustainability at the center of how we create shared value.
The resurgence of sustainable agricultural practices has shown that the ability to transform global agriculture while making a positive impact on our climate ambitions to reach net zero is within reach. As a result, one of our key pep+ pillars – Positive Agriculture – is grounded in advancing regenerative agriculture across our entire footprint, approximately seven million acres. We estimate this effort will eliminate at least three million tons of greenhouse gases by the end of the decade, and help improve the livelihoods of those in our global agricultural supply chain.
An example of this work in action that’s especially close to my heart is She Feeds the World (SFtW), a program we developed together with the PepsiCo Foundation and CARE to teach, equip, train and advocate for sustainable agriculture, women’s empowerment and gender equality in agriculture across the world. SFtW helps women gain access to land rights, financing, and markets; acquire quality inputs and equipment; implement sustainable agriculture practices; and supports women in growing more with less so they can feed their families themselves and grow their incomes. The program supports food security and economic opportunity in the long-term and helps communities respond to systemic shocks like COVID-19. It is anchored in PepsiCo’s pep+ goal to spread regenerative practices across all our land, support women small-scale producers, and strengthen farming communities. As of 2020, the program has provided more than 700,000 women small-scale producers and their families in Egypt, Peru, and Uganda, with the tools and training they need to foster sustainable, long-term growth.
The farmer is the center point for regenerative agriculture, and the voices of farmers must be at every table when developing policy, regulations, and financial incentives. We are doing this because we know that regenerative agriculture can protect farmers from catastrophic climate change effects – and therefore sustain their livelihoods for long-term food security and also reducing environmental impact.
But we also know that embracing regenerative practices comes with a cost for farmers. It usually takes farmers about two to four years of using regenerative agriculture practices before they start to see a benefit to their profit and loss sheet. So, we need to help them bridge the gap.One thing we have tried is cost-sharing up to $10 per acre. This gives farmers the resources they need to implement cover crops that increase soil health and resilience to climate change. We’ve had farmers in this program tell us that their fields are green, while their neighbours’ are brown, or that they now grow the best soybeans they’ve ever had. Not only has this put more money in the pockets of farmers, but it has also demonstrated a 38% reduction in greenhouse gasses.
We are very proud of pep+ and believe it is the future of our business. However, no sector can do this alone; addressing climate change requires a systems approach. Action is absolutely vital, now more than ever. Infact, we have vowed to increase scrutiny over our business’ climate policies and have offered learnings in decarbonization through our participation at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). By working together—private sector, governments, development agencies, farmers, consumers — we can unlock climate solutions at the scale that is needed, drive systemic changes in energy and food systems, and have a sustainable meaningful impact on people’s lives.