In 2020, Unilever pledged to speculate €1bn in local weather, nature and useful resource effectivity tasks over the next decade, with the goal of ‘reworking’ the best way its merchandise are made and attain finish of life. The fund aligns with the Knorr-to-Magnum maker’s ambition to attain internet zero emissions by 2039.
A key piece of that funding lies in integrating regenerative agriculture ideas into crop cultivation for its meals components. Though a transparent definition of ‘regenerative agriculture’ doesn’t but exist, Unilever has established its personal.
For the Knorr-to-Magnum maker, its Regenerative Agriculture Ideas embody practices which have optimistic results on soil well being, water and air high quality, carbon seize and biodiversity. Making certain adequate yield and dietary high quality, whereas conserving useful resource inputs as little as potential, can also be central to its requirements.
Having established its regenerative agriculture ideas, Unilever arrange 4 tasks in Europe and the US. One 12 months on, and the primary environmental influence outcomes are in. It’s ‘nonetheless early days’, in accordance with the FMCG, however the case research counsel there’s ‘floor for optimism’.
Bettering water and soil administration in Spain
Within the Badajoz area in Spain’s southwest, farmers provide Unilever with tomatoes for its Knorr model, which makes soups, seasonings, sauces and bouillon cubes.
The world struggles with decreased rainfall and depleted underground water reserves, which was impetus for Knorr to accomplice with tomato provider Agraz to assist farmers within the area deal with the results of local weather change.
The undertaking makes use of sensors and soil probes to higher inform farmers in regards to the quantity of water wanted for irrigation, with the goal of saving cash and constructing resilience into their manufacturing techniques.
After one full 12 months, Unilever is recording a 37% lower in GHG emissions (kg of CO2eq) per kg tomatoes compared to earlier than the undertaking. Outcomes additionally counsel a rise in soil natural matter and fertility (from 1% in 2020 to 1.27% in 2022).
Understandably, temperature can have an effect on outcomes – excessive temperatures and droughts enhance the necessity to irrigate, and thus the GHG emissions related to it. However FoodNavigator understands that in each regular and excessive weather conditions, Unilever’s strategy would scale back water footprint influence.
In a second parallel trial, three farmers have been inspired to plant wildflower borders to extend biodiversity. On these farms, a formidable 173% enhance in pollinators was recorded, in addition to a 27% enhance in wildflower range.
Tackling water air pollution in Italy
In Lombardy, Italy, thought of one of many principal European areas for rice manufacturing, Knorr has partnered with provider Parboriz to look at methods of lowering rice air pollution and GHG emission related to rice farming, whereas boosting biodiversity.
Irrigation and drainage, which is central to rice cultivation, have typically been related to lack of water high quality attributable to salt, pesticides and fertilizer runoff.
Knorr examined and evaluated agricultural practices on 4 demonstration farms masking 900 hectares within the area. Not one of the rice grown was processed or utilized by Unilever, however the learnings and outcomes have been ‘so spectacular’ that the practices have been rolled out to 200 different rice farmers within the space this 12 months.
The undertaking decreased the quantity of chemical reside present in water, together with a 78% discount in pesticide residue, a 62% discount in herbicide residue, and a 78% discount in fungicide residue.
A rise within the presence of pollinating bugs, amphibians, and birds, particularly aquatic birds, was additionally noticed.
The proper administration of the vegetation current on the banks of the rice fields proved basic, along with the fixed presence of water in some furrows of the rice discipline throughout the rising season. This encourages the event of pure cycles, so to permit nature itself to assist and enhance rice manufacturing.
Chopping methane emissions from rice cultivation
Rice is a major contributor to GHG emissions, estimated to be accountable for 10% of worldwide methane emissions. This happens when soil is flooded, as it’s in rice manufacturing, creating low-oxygen situations by which methane-producing micro organism thrive.
The rice makes use of a ‘chimney-like’ plant tissue to permit oxygen to maneuver up and down the roots. The methane-producing micro organism within the soil use the identical tube to ship methane up into the environment.
In an effort to lower methane emission output, Knorr partnered with rice provider Riviana and the College of Arkansas within the US. The undertaking included furrow irrigation and alternate wetting and drying, which reduces the time the land stays underwater. This decreased the methane launched from the flooded rice fields. Water saving was additionally achieved, and crop high quality permitted.
Particularly, the undertaking noticed 76% much less methane (kg of CO2eq per kg rice) launched, and 48% much less GHG emissions (kg of CO2eq per kg rice) compared to earlier than the undertaking.
FoodNavigator understands it is very important handle any trade-offs and ship a holistic strategy when making use of various wetting and drying practices. Whereas this apply can considerably lower methane emissions, it additionally means lowering the time when fields are flooded.
From mid-November to the top of January for instance, flooded fields present habitat for migrated birds. All through the undertaking implementation, it was essential to make sure the presence of pure habitats for migratory birds was maintained, all of the whereas lowering general methane emissions.
Safety the soil throughout soybean manufacturing
Within the US, soybean oil is the first ingredient in Hellmann’s Actual Mayonnaise product. In Unilever’s largest regenerative agriculture undertaking up to now – incorporating 523 farmers and greater than 35,000 hectares of canopy crops – the corporate has teamed up with Sensible Farmers of Iowa, PepsiCo and soybean provider ADM to higher shield soil well being.
“The programme is developed round three pillars that may be replicated for various points with completely different crops and areas,” defined Stefani Millie, senior supervisor, Exterior Affairs and Sustainability at Unilever. “The three pillars – monetary help, technical help and peer assist/studying – are basically the blueprint for a way programmes are being arrange in North America.”
Certainly, on this undertaking farmers are supplied with monetary and technical assist to plant non-commercial cowl crops to guard the soil from the depleting impact of adversarial climate, similar to wind and rain, in between planting.
Findings counsel 14% much less nitrate run off water has been achieved in comparison with comparability fields, and 6% much less GHG emissions.
Regardless of these wholesome outcomes, challenges stay, similar to encouraging ‘center adopters’ to make modifications to their farming practices. For a farmer to change to soil well being practices, similar to no-till and canopy crop, it requires a change in the best way they farm. And the common age of a US farmer is 57.5 years and so they have been on their present farm for a mean of 21.3 years.
What subsequent? ‘It’s time to go large’
However Unilever stays optimistic. The environmental influence outcomes from its 4 tasks provides ‘hope’, in accordance with Soubeiran, who mentioned the corporate is conscious there’s ‘extra to be accomplished’.
“As an business, we have to work collectively to scale regenerative agriculture ideas which requires an aligned framework, technical and monetary assist for farmers and robust partnerships.
“This additionally requires governments to assist the shift to and upkeep of regenerative agriculture practices by serving to to de-risk the transition, implementing insurance policies to incentivise, and offering technical help,” he advised FoodNavigator.
For Unilever, these preliminary outcomes are the ‘first indication’ that the implementation of regenerative agriculture ideas at scale can carry resilience to the availability of its meals components, in addition to advantages to farmers, and scale back the unfavorable impacting of farming of the setting.
Plans to rollout extra tasks are underway: by the top of the 12 months the corporate goals to have round 300,000 hectares contracted, and by 2030 it plans to have expanded to greater than 1,000 programmes. “The time for pilots is over,” mentioned Unilever vitamin president Hanneke Faber. “It’s time to go large.”