The Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform (SAI) is composed of more than 80 companies around the world who want to achieve sustainability in their agricultural supply chains. Joseph “Dax” Carl Olfindo spoke to Peter-Erik Ywema about the SAI Platform and his role as General Manager.
Peter-Erik Ywema has two passions. He is a passionate artist, studying art at night. His other passion is something that I think we should all be passionate about too: the environment.
He studied chemistry to find out what he could do to manage and minimize the effects of pollution. Then he worked as a consultant on environmental issues which led him to creating strategies for the environment. Now he is responsible for a large multi-stakeholder platform in sustainable agriculture.
How was the SAI platform conceived?
(I started with SAI) eight years ago, but the company began 13 years ago. They had different directors back then. It was started by three companies: Unilever, Danone and Nestle. They were facing big issues with their supply chains. They understood the threats to their supply chains and there was no prevalent organization that could deal with it, that could help them. So they decided on a pre-competitive, collaborative effort and that is how the platform came to be.
So continuity in the supply chain was the main driving force for the conception of this group?
Yes. This is very important. Some people see it as a kind of CSR – Corporate Social Responsibility – but it’s really a strategic issue of supply chain security. That is why it’s so powerful and it continues. Usually when there’s a budget cut in the company, CSR is the first thing to go. When it is about the supply chain, you cannot do that. It’s the backbone of the business.
How did the membership grow?
So the first thought was, we needed to create a vehicle where companies could sit together. An association was formed. They paid membership fees, fully financing this platform.
As the general manager, what are your main roles?
To coordinate the get-together of the companies; to create a structure where they can meet each other and discuss topics like crops and issues; to connect them with researchers or universities to develop research materials or summarize what is already available. Also, to encourage them to start piloting what they have learned in their respective supply chains.
You mentioned earlier that you are working on a digital office space; do you think that this platform would have been conceivable if there was no Internet?
Yes, but it would happen in another form. We would need an office and to sit together. I think the nice thing is that we are very ‘lean and mean’, as they call it in business. We don’t have an office space. We meet every month, the whole team. We fully operate by phone, conference calls, Skype and webinars.
Why did these three companies, which started this platform, decide to focus on agriculture?
That’s a very good question. In the 90s the concept of LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) began. When I worked for the same companies, it was mainly about their processes. They wanted to reduce energy requirements, waste and pollution. The LCA thinking made them understand that the impact of production and the waste in the supply chain was much more important than what they were doing at the factory level. In the supply chain, the farmer is usually the biggest polluter. The more we can facilitate and help the farmer pollute less, be more resource efficient, the better we do our job.
How can you improve the SAI Platform?
The biggest challenge is coordination. If you look at our members, they are all branded companies. They are good at branding their product, so whatever they sell, they have a logo on it. When they create supply chain requirements, they consider their brand. They want to have unique supplier requirements, even if the requirements are 80-90% similar to the other brands. All these companies have different requirements for the farmers, which drives the farmers crazy. Good intentions, but with the wrong outcome. It’s frustrating for them.
The challenge is to get them aligned behind the same tools. When you have big multinational companies together, you have to create leverage in order to build training programs and projects, like the one we have in Pakistan. You can only do that if you agree to the same requirements.
What is the FSA?
(It stands for) Farm Sustainability Assessment. It’s an assessment tool built on basic principles and practices. It (started off as) a huge document of requirements but we found out that none of our members would actually go to a farm with this document. So we translated this document and made a simpler version of it. We have created I.T. systems that filter the questions. For example: if a farmer is asked ‘Do you have any workers on your farm?’, if you say no, all the questions related to workers are dropped. If you say that you work with a national program which in turn would lead to an answer of yes to some of the questions, the questions that are redundant drop out as well. We can do that because of skill and our pool of resources.
Is it something similar to ISO?
Yes and no. In principle, you can do it and potentially it can become an international standard. My first worry would be that companies would use the FSA as a checklist. I don’t think it should work that way. The main purpose for me is the language. The FSA is a language that can help you talk to a farmer. I don’t want them to just tick boxes. I want them to engage the farmer. It’s more of an engagement tool rather than a compliance tool. I am advocating, wherever I am, against that type of use. It should not be rigid.
Looking into the future of the platform, what are the goals that the platform should achieve?
One goal is for the FSA to be used by members and non-members alike. It’s open-source and free. It also includes the databases because of our set-up with the National Trade Centre. A farmer can go online and do the assessment for him or herself for free and be able to share it with their customers.
Hopefully, it’s not just (about) filling up the form, but creating improvement programs based on it…to create simple systems, that small-hold farmers can use themselves to quantify improvement in their systems. Creating useful indicators that will show that there is progress on their farms.
The SAI platform wants to be able to reach farmers across the world and create a universal tool that will help them analyse if their farm are following sustainable agriculture practices in guidelines. Through this, sustainability in the supply chain will be achieved globally.
Blogpost by Joseph “Dax” Carl Olfindo, #GCARD3 Social Reporter – josephcarlolfindo(at)gmail.com
Picture courtesy: SAI Platform
This post is part of the live coverage during the #GCARD3 Regional Consultation for Asia and Pacific region. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.