Nestlé and the journey of regenerative agriculture to combat climate change

December 10, 2021 | 10:49
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Nestlé Vietnam has been pioneering regenerative agriculture to restore and regenerate the ecosystem, contributing to Vietnam’s efforts to fight global climate change.
Nestlé and the journey of regenerative agriculture to combat climate change
Nestlé and the journey of regenerative agriculture to combat climate change

Nestlé is one of the world’s leading corporations with a strong commitment to combating climate change. The company has committed to halving its emissions by 2030 and achieving net-zero by 2050. To realise this ambitious goal, in September 2021, Nestlé announced a plan to invest approximately $1.3 billion in regenerative agriculture over the next five years as a practical solution for sustainable development to protect the environment and combat climate change.

At present, nearly two-thirds of Nestlé’s emissions come from agriculture. Therefore, the shift toward regenerative agriculture will help the group to greatly slash greenhouse gas emissions in the near future.

“We know that regenerative agriculture plays a critical role in improving soil health, restoring water cycles, and increasing biodiversity for the long term. These outcomes form the foundation of sustainable food production and, crucially, also contribute to achieving our ambitious climate targets,” said Paul Bulcke, chairman of Nestlé.

With a $1.3 billion investment, Nestlé will support more than 500,000 farmers and 150,000 suppliers to switch to regenerative farming practices. The group’s efforts will focus on three primary levers, including applying science and technology, providing technical assistance, and paying premiums for regenerative agriculture goods.

In Vietnam, Nestlé has been pioneering regenerative agriculture through its NESCAFÉ Plan. After 10 years of implementation, NESCAFÉ Plan has worked closely with farmers in the Central Highlands to improve the quality of coffee beans, improve farming methods, replant old coffee trees, and increase income for farmers.

With the new investment, Nestlé will speed up the transition toward regenerative agriculture as well as procure raw materials from suppliers with regenerative farming practises with a view to increasing positive impacts on the environment, reducing carbon emissions, and supporting the fight against climate change.

Regenerating the natural ecosystem

Since 2020, Nestlé has determined that its sustainable development strategy should not stop at sustainable actions but move towards a comprehensive approach focusing on renewable and regenerative goals, fighting climate change and preserving resources for the future.

Nestlé has set the foundation for regenerative agriculture in Vietnam through sustainable coffee farming practices. Within the framework of the NESCAFÉ Plan, Nestlé Vietnam has introduced a reasonable intercropping model for coffee farmers in the Central Highlands. Accordingly, Nestlé recommends a proper intercropping model of coffee and pepper in gardens. Farmers can select other crops for intercropping, such as avocado, durian, or cashew, depending on local conditions.

Intercropping of shade trees and other crops in coffee gardens is a new practice in the Central Highlands provinces as farmers mainly apply highly intensive monocultural farming practices to achieve the highest yield in the shortest time.

The overly taxing use of farmland reduces productivity over time. Many coffee growing areas are seriously damaged by soil-borne diseases, destabilising coffee production in the Central Highlands.

Meanwhile, proper intercropping combined with modern farming techniques through GAP and NESCAFE Better Farming Practices standards has proven effective in protecting the environment, increasing balance and diversity to the ecosystem.

With intercropping, pepper trees act as shade trees and windbreaks for coffee gardens. Thus, intercropping 30 per cent pepper trees on coffee gardens will increase carbon sequestration, thereby significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, shade trees also act as windbreaks during the dry season, improving ecological conditions as well as lowering temperature and evaporation in the gardens. They are also nitrogen-fixing plants, which can improve soil structure and soil fertility for both intercropping and coffee crops.

Protect the source of life

While soil is the source of life, water feeds all living creatures on Earth. Therefore, Nestlé is determined to pursue regenerative agriculture to preserve resources for the future.

Regenerative farming methods contribute to soil conservation by replacing inorganic fertilisers with organic alternatives. The NESCAFÉ Plan team continuously encourages farmers to use coffee husk and agri-residues from harvesting and processing to produce organic fertilisers. This initiative has helped reduce the use and cost of inorganic fertilisers by 20-30 per cent.

According to a study by the Western Highlands Agriculture and Forestry Science Institute (WASI), intercropped coffee gardens have higher soil fertility indicators than monoculture coffee gardens. The fallen leaves and branches of intercropping crops also contribute to improving soil organic matter and making soil spongier, thereby increasing the efficiency of fertiliser and pesticide use.

It is clear that regenerative farming methods like composting and intercropping not only improve soil health but also limit weeds and diseases, resulting in stable coffee production.

In addition, regenerative agriculture also contributes to the conservation of increasingly scarce water resources. Over the past time, the NESCAFÉ Plan project has introduced water-saving irrigation techniques including drip irrigation, sprinkler irrigation, or using simple, easy-to-find, and inexpensive tools such as milk cans and plastic bottles to measure soil moisture. The techniques can help farmers save up to 40-60 per cent of irrigation water.

Meanwhile, the intercropping model will increase the watering cycle for coffee as shade trees limit evaporation while keeping the soil moist, further reducing water use. The WASI study showed that intercropping in coffee gardens increased water efficiency by 17.7 per cent. With a proper intercropping model, only 500 cubic metres of water are needed to grow one tonne of coffee while monoculture coffee gardens need 600cu.m.

“Dual” values of regenerative agriculture

Regenerative agriculture is indispensable for the sustainable development of agriculture. Regenerative farming not only contributes to regenerating topsoil, increasing biodiversity, improving the water cycle, conserving natural ecosystems, as well as improving the resilience of agricultural land to climate change.

Besides, regenerative farming methods also bring economic efficiency to farmers facing frequent extreme weather conditions. The obvious impacts of climate change can be detrimental to the production of the coffee industry.

Nestlé has cooperated with WASI to produce drought-resistant and pest-resistant seed varieties and distribute them to farmers. The coffee varieties can help farmers reduce the amount of water used for irrigation, improve coffee quality. This, coupled with a proper intercropping model, helps farmers increase their income as well as ensure a supply of good quality coffee for Nestlé’s coffee factories.

Nestlé also offers training programmes to update the latest knowledge on advanced coffee farming practices in Vietnam and around the world. Among them, priority is given to regenerative agriculture management using digital tools such as Farmer Relationship Management Solution (FARMS) and Digital Farmer Field Book (DIARY) to provide knowledge about agriprenership to farmers. Thus, farmers can manage their own farm economy and Nestlé can acquire quick data in microeconomic management.

Le Thi Hoai, a farmer in Dak R’Lap district, Dak Nong shared, “My family has been participating in the NESCAFÉ Plan project for seven years. Since joining the programme, we have learned a lot of useful knowledge and techniques such as pruning branches at the right time, saving water, reducing chemical fertilisers, increasing organic fertilisers such as composting coffee husks and picking ripe coffee to achieve high yield. In particular, my family has intercropped durian and cashew trees to improve income for an area of land. I am very grateful to Nestlé and the NESCAFÉ Plan.”

On the same note, Ho Thi Vinh, a farmer from Cu M’Gar district, Dak Lak province said, “I have been participating in the NESCAFÉ Plan project since 2014. I have participated in many training courses on sustainable farming techniques organised by Nestlé with the guidance of agronomists. I have learned how to choose the most suitable fertiliser and apply the right amount at the right place at the right time. In particular, the model of intercropping avocado and durian trees in the coffee garden has helped my family improve productivity and increase income.”

Building regenerative agriculture in next decade

After more than 10 years of implementation, the NESCAFÉ Plan has funded farmers with 30 per cent of the cost of seedlings to help replant coffee gardens. The project has distributed more than 53 million high-yield, disease-resistant coffee saplings to farmers and helped rejuvenate 53,000 hectares of aged coffee plantations in the Central Highlands. It has also provided over 246,000 training courses on sustainable coffee farming to 300,000 farmers and helped over 21,000 farmers achieve the Common Code for the Coffee Community (4C) international certification.

In April 2021, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development had a meeting with Nestlé Vietnam on the plan for Partnership for Sustainable Agriculture in Vietnam (PSAV) in the 2021-2025 period, with a vision towards 2030. At the meeting, Nestlé Vietnam has shared the group’s vision on regenerative agriculture to combat climate change in agricultural production as well as the management and use of agricultural materials responsibly.

Binu Jacob, managing director of Nestlé Vietnam, said that, “To join hands to combat climate change, Nestlé group has built a roadmap to reduce carbon emissions in stages to achieve net-zero by 2050. We will deliver on this commitment by reducing carbon emissions throughout our operations and supply chain.”

“Nestlé Vietnam will continue to accompany farmers to promote the development of regenerative agriculture and conserve resources for the future. This is our key development strategy for the coming decade,” he said.

By Thanh Van

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