A Maori proverb says 'whatungarongaro te tangata toitu te whenua'. Roughly translated this means 'As man disappears from sight, the land remains'. For a country like New Zealand built on agriculture and characterised by a symbiotic relationship with the land, ensuring sustainable practices and policies around agro-processing is as much a policy directive as it is part of the culture.
Food production uses nearly 80 per cent of all water worldwide, and despite the rising movement towards organic farming, still uses increasing quantities of chemicals which can jeopardise biodiversity. When one adds that despite these environmentally costly inputs, 30 per cent of all food produced ends up either lost or wasted, there is a need to better balance demand, supply and sustainability.
By 2040, Earth's population will swell to over 9 billion with much higher demand on global food systems. This means ensuring sustainable production to safely meet these growing food needs must become a global policy directive. To ensure sustainable production there must be effective sustainability standards and certifications.
These standards are important markers for farmers, producers and consumers as they strive for that balance between competitiveness and quality. Making the grade for sustainability allows producers to conserve resources, protect health and the environment andalso attract increasingly environmentally-aware consumers.
World leaders have endorsed the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), one of which focuses on responsible consumption and production.
More than 40 large companies, with supply and distribution chains that cross continents, have publicly committed to improving their sourcing practices. They have pledged to meet sustainability standards and source significant raw material inputs sustainably.
Late last year the International Trade Centre, with GS1, launched the "Blue Number Initiative", a tool to help sustainable farming. Any farmer or small and medium-sized enterprise in the food and agriculture value chain can register for a dedicated blue number, which is an ID based on their specific geo-location.
A smart South Island dairy farm who refrains from cutting forests, uses fewer chemicals, keeps the herd size in line with available acreage and takes the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions seriously - knowing that all this is good for the environment, good for consumers, quality, exports and the bottom line - would be a welcome participant in the Blue Number Initiative. Each Blue Number is connected to a public profile, almost like a Facebook or LinkedIn entry for farmers, containing key information the individual farmer or agribusiness provides about its activities and how they meet sustainability criteria. Users will be able to upload photos, certifications and share information with trading partners globally. The gender entry allows for gender disaggregated data, and will facilitate the mapping of women in farming to guide businesses that want to specifically source and procure from women-owned enterprises.
Blue Number holders will be connected to an online platform to enable previously invisible farmers and agribusinesses to have an online presence. Importantly, it will connect them to global buyers who prioritise sustainable sourcing.
So far more than 60,000 Blue Numbers have been issued in countries from Argentina, Colombia, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, the United Republic of Tanzania and Vietnam.
New Zealand can help spread more sustainable farming practices at home as well as in the Pacific region. Sustainable farming is about doing business while doing good. It is about ensuring decent income and benefits while preserving our environment. Because both are possible and both are needed.