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Lao Tzu, the famous Chinese philosopher, said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
For ZZ2, South Africa’s largest producer of tomatoes, the sustainability journey started in the late 1990s with the realization that its soil was dead and that it could not continue to farm profitably unless it changed farming practices. According to Wiam Haddad, ecologist at ZZ2, this was when the concept of farming with heightened awareness and sensitivity to nature and the human environment was conceived (referred to as Natuurboerdery in Afrikaans). By focusing first and foremost on soil health and then each farms’ ecosystems, ZZ2 has restored productivity of its soil and profitability of its farming operations.
This has been the cornerstone upon which ZZ2 has built responsible water management practices, biodiversity restoration and sound employee and community relations as it uses Natuurboerdery as its guiding star.
Looking at the soybean industry in the U.S., the sustainability journey for the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) has evolved in an organic way, according to director of outreach Amy Roady. As the number-one producer of soybeans in the U.S., ISA believes that by working together, stakeholders can solve some of the greatest challenges facing the industry and create the future that all want.
It is through collaborative efforts with organizations such as the Illinois Corn Growers Association, Nature Conservancy, local universities and experts that farmers trust that innovative solutions can be found that improve the social, economic and environmental well-being of farmers, communities and the world.
A guiding principle ISA links its sustainability journey to is the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Roady strongly believes that the good progress made has been achieved by valuing multiple perspectives, sharing success stories and encouraging ownership where needed.
The 2020 Sustainability Highlights Report by Santa Paula, Calif.-based Limoneira Co. states that its sustainability journey started when the company was founded in 1893. The founders realized early on that treading lightly on the land and building good relations with the local community and employees would mean that they could do well by doing good.
This mindset continues with pioneering efforts to improve water usage and use of beneficial insects to control unwanted ones evolving into a holistic sustainability approach supporting a triple bottom-line view of its business. This is well captured in Limoneira’s sustainability matrix, which gives a good overview of where it has made and continues to make progress.
Most noteworthy in the report is the acknowledgment that sustainability is a journey and that the next milestone for the company is understanding its carbon footprint and setting long term goals for improvement.
Whether you start your journey out of need, a goal to preserve your leadership position or conviction to do what is right, the time for sitting on the sidelines has passed.
Retailers and customers are already demanding products that are more sustainably produced. As Gen Y and Z grow in importance as consumer groups, this trend will continue and leave those unprepared with an uncertain future.
Andrew Southwood is a business development strategist in the Montreal area consulting in the fresh produce sector on business resilience and adaptability.
More from Andrew Southwood:
Sustainability’s implications for shareholder value
Sustainability in context
Are sustainability and stewardship the same?