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Win-Win: Trade Helps Meet the SDGs

December 11, 2019

The 21st century has brought increased visibility to our business and with it increased scrutiny, putting the way we work in the spotlight.

I welcome that scrutiny. It encourages us to take even more considered decisions on what we do and how we do it, as we fulfill our purpose of fair and sustainable value creation. For our business to thrive in the long-term, we need our people, partners, investors, customers, consumers and society at large to understand, accept and trust us. And trust begins with open, transparent dialogue and actions that match our words.

The average consumer may not have heard of us and yet at any given moment, we buy, transport, transform, store and sell millions of tons of agricultural goods. As leaders in a sector that helps sustain the planet’s seven billion people, we help get a vast range of products from where they are grown to where they are needed and consumed.

The advantage of an increased spotlight on merchants like LDC is that our role to support the needs of a growing global population sustainably is increasingly understood. And with that understanding comes the realization that our business plays a key role in finding solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges, including poverty, inequality and the effects of climate change. As such, we are playing a key role in advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As we accomplish our mission to get the right product to the right place, at the right time, we create jobs and generate income along the way. Our sector employs millions of people around the world and connects many thousands of farmers with markets, including by providing reliable storage and transport solutions.

And it is not just about industrial-scale farming. We work with thousands of smallholder farmers – many of them women – who may be farming as little as half a hectare of land. Growing 70% of the world’s food, smallholders are the lifeblood of the world’s food system, their wellbeing is our wellbeing. So, empowering them is the key to sustainable development in many of our product lines.

We cannot solve all the world’s problems, but thanks to our global operational network and leading industry position, we are well placed to help advance the UN’s global SDGs, especially those pertaining to poverty (Goal 1), hunger (Goal 2), good health and well-being (Goal 3).

And we want to go further. As a responsible business, LDC understands that long-term economic interests – our own and those of society at large – are best served through fair and sustainable value creation, acting responsibly, protecting our environment and ensuring a win-win for all value chain participants.

That’s why we also work to address the SDGs relating to quality education (Goal 4), decent work and economic growth (Goal 8), responsible consumption and production (Goal 12), climate action (Goal 13) and life below water and on land (Goals 14 and 15).

And as SDG n°17 underlines, partnerships are the key to success in all these areas. Government, business and society – and each of us as individuals – all have a stake in this global effort, because we all have an impact as well.

Although we are dealing with complex issues that no individual actor can solve on their own, as major actors in many important and global supply chains, we merchants have a crucial opportunity to influence those around us and make a real difference. And we are already seizing the opportunity on a global scale at LDC – especially through partnerships with entities such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Soft Commodities Forum, expert organizations such as the Better Cotton Initiative and the Rainforest Alliance, and many other global and local partners, as we work to change practices – often centuries old – for a more sustainable future.

On many of the issues, time is not on our side. Climate change is already impacting agriculture, changing how and where crops grow, and forcing farmers to move away from traditional agriculture. And because it is in everyone’s interest to protect the farmers who are at the heart of the world’s food chain, our agronomists work with smallholders around the world to introduce new techniques, help them adjust to a changing climate, stay in business and feed their families, and ultimately maintain supply.

Our changing world presents many complexities and challenges, among which feeding the world’s growing population despite diminishing arable land and shifting consumption patterns is by no means the least. For example, as Asia’s increasingly wealthy middle class emerges, it is demanding more protein. This protein traditionally comes from meat, but the scale on which livestock and feeding that livestock is required, and its impact on the environment, is increasingly unsustainable. As a result, we must find other ways to provide protein. Soy is an excellent source of protein and the industry is growing fast, but its environmental impact must also be carefully assessed and controlled.

New technology offers new and exciting opportunities. Consumers want guarantees that the products they buy and consume do not involve deforestation or child labor, or endanger wildlife. Today, technology facilitates traceability in unprecedented ways. For instance, LDC is using DNA tags to trace cotton, and blockchain to make its juice supply chain transparent.

Technology is also increasingly part of new solutions for alternative proteins. Biotechnology and bioengineering are developing new plant-based proteins and ingredients, as potential contributions to feeding a growing world population sustainably.

Solving complex problems can be an iterative process. We address one part of the issue, but another arises. That is why dialogue is so essential – it provides critical feedback to understand when we are on the right track and when we are not. By involving as many of our stakeholders as possible in the conversation, we maximize our potential impact by building consensus and finding shared solutions to common challenges.

As the African proverb says: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Ian McIntosh
LDC Chief Executive Officer

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