Our key takeaway: This is the second iteration of the World Benchmarking Alliance’s (WBA) Food and Agriculture Benchmark and the results are mixed. While more companies are referring to ‘regenerative agriculture’, committing to climate targets, and conducting sustainability assessments to determine their material topics, “very few are putting people at the centre of this transition” according to the WBA. For instance, companies are failing to: (1) bridge farmers’ living income gaps; (2) translate regenerative agriculture approaches into practice; (3) commit to scope 3 emissions reduction targets; and (4) set sustainability targets and disclose progress on their material risks and impacts. This may be symptomatic of a broader, more general, trend of companies failing “to recognise their responsibility to protect the planet and feed the world in an equitable way.”
The World Benchmarking Alliance published the 2023 Food and Agriculture Benchmark (October 2023), which assessed 350 companies in the food and agricultural sector against environmental, social and nutritional factors:
- “Companies are not closing farmers’ living income gaps”: The benchmark states that poverty is endemic in the 40 low-and-middle-income countries the 350 companies source from: “The 350 companies in scope source at least 30 different food commodities, such as coffee, cocoa and palm oil, from around 75 million small-scale producers based in 40 low-and middle-income countries. Most of these countries are impacted by persistent poverty.” While there have been efforts to improve farmers’ livelihoods, few have focused on bridging the living income gap crucial to securing an adequate standard of living for small-scale farmers and their families: “27% of companies support farmers’ income stability through procurement and pricing practices” but “less than 4% of companies identify living income benchmarks or calculate living income gaps.”
- “Regenerative agriculture is gaining traction, except when it comes to input use”: The benchmark discusses how companies are increasingly referring to the term ‘regenerative agriculture’ but are disclosing very little on how they are implementing this in practice. For instance, 51% of companies assessed refer to regenerative agriculture practices but “less than 10% of companies disclose data on optimising the use of fertilisers, and only around 4% of companies disclose data on minimising the use of pesticides.” In addition, 165 companies have not disclosed scope 3 emissions targets, despite the fact that the food sector is responsible for a third of global GHG emissions.
- “Lack of corporate accountability hinders meaningful change”: The benchmark discusses how sustainability assessments do not necessarily correlate to meaningful targets and actions. Despite the fact that more than half of companies “undertake a materiality assessment to identify and prioritise their most relevant sustainability impacts”, only 8% follow through by setting targets across their material sustainability topics. This is in tandem with a significant number of companies - 46% - not making any sustainability disclosures.