Woolworths, in collaboration with a select number of farmers in South Africa, has been providing expertise to farmers, as well as sense of provenance and transparency in the supply chain to consumers. This example of shared value makes gaining and making profit while creating products seem beneficial for both the company and the farmers. It creates trust and transparency in the supply chain, ensuring that consumers can hold the supplier accountable for the conditions under which the product is produced.
The retailer began exploring farming with the Farming for the Future programme and committed to managing the entire farming process, beginning with soil health. Under the Good Business Journey business strategy implemented in 2007, Woolworths along with a team of experts provides mentorship and help, in a partnership capacity, to farmers to reach and maintain the product quality needed to ensure doing business with the retailer.
One of the key factors influencing farmers to accept the joint venture according to Agrisa is that Woolworths pays the bill for the annual audit, reducing costs for them. In 2017 Woolworths had 133 of their primary fresh produce and horticulture suppliers as well as 70 secondary suppliers assessed against its Farming for the Future standards.
In the journal, the Global Environmental Change, Stanford researchers have lauded Woolworths for their Farming for the Future programme siting that it “drove increased adoption of environmental practices at the farm level.”
Agriculture is known to be one of the largest global environmental polluters, driving deforestation and contributing an estimated 30 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions. The challenge for Woolworths was to find a way to provide quality fresh food products to their consumers without adding to costs and ensuring that the process is sustainable. The difficulty in doing so was that most farms used large amounts of fertilisers and pesticides to produce higher yields and in turn compromised soil quality in the long run.
According to Woolworths, “Healthy soil is better able to retain water, needs less irrigation and fewer chemical interventions, which means farmers only use synthetic fertilisers or herbicides when absolutely necessary. Fewer chemicals mean less chemical run-off, which helps to maintain water quality as well as contributing to maintaining biodiversity, both in and above the soil.”
Reflecting on the study Stanford News said: “Farming for the Future combines annual auditor feedback with the individual needs of the farmers‚ rather than imposing definitive rules.
“Farms are evaluated on sustainability criteria each year‚ including soil management‚ water use‚ biodiversity‚ waste disposal‚ pest management‚ carbon footprint and environmental laws.”
Researcher Tannis Thorlakson conducted 90 qualitative interviews in South Africa with auditors and farmers in October 2016. According to her the results revealed that farmers value long-term partnerships with their buyers. Indicating a shared interest in making the programme work.
The study is aimed at encouraging other retailers to create sustainable practices and to allow those to be evaluated by researchers.
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