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Sustainable Commodity Sectors Can Prevent Instability

Words by 3p Contributor
Energy & Environment
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By Lise Melvin

How can business help advance international sustainability goals and prevent global instability? This is the question being explored by leading companies, civil society and the United Nations at the 2016 Private Sector Forum this week.

Over the last few years, I have been involved with the U.N. Development Program's Green Commodities Program (GCP). We are now supporting 11 governments to evolve their national commodity sectors into engines of sustainable development. If managed sustainably, not only can deforestation and biodiversity loss be curbed, but these sectors can also improve the lives of millions of people, especially those living in rural areas.

Sustainable commodity sectors support almost all of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. They can provide local jobs, improve incomes, empower women and promote healthy environments. This can ultimately make communities more resilient against shocks and instability.

But what will it take to achieve sustainable commodity sectors, and what role does business have to play?

Through our work, we at GCP have learned that no single group can overcome the complex barriers to sustainable commodity production. All commodity stakeholders need to work together on a shared agenda to address fundamental issues. For example, developing effective legal frameworks or boosting support for farmers.

Moving beyond supply chains


For businesses, this means moving beyond their own supply chains and supporting action on a wider scale. We are seeing forward-thinking companies, such as Mondelez International and Ikea, doing this. They are actively participating in government-led National Commodity Platforms that we support.

For example, in the Dominican Republic, the public and private sectors will support farmers to adopt much-needed
 agricultural practices. This is part of an action plan that all cocoa stakeholders are now supporting. This is key to boosting yields, incomes and helping to revive dying cocoa growing communities. Using materials developed by national academic institutions, farmers who participate in organized commercial supply chains can access training through their buyer or processor. Meanwhile those who sell through informal networks can receive the same training from the Ministry of Agriculture. In this way stakeholders will reach the majority of the country’s cocoa growers.

Honest and open dialogue


Achieving sustainability also means businesses must honor their global commitments toward, for example, deforestation-free supply chains, with concrete actions on the ground. Business needs to adequately resource, monitor and align these with national development agendas. It also means businesses participating in honest and open dialogue with a range of stakeholders.

Through our work, we have seen firsthand the challenges that public and private stakeholders face. Often they are not used to working together and come from vastly different working cultures. We found that bridging this divide requires a neutral space where dialogue can take place and greater understanding and trust can be built.

The 2016 Private Sector Forum is an important event where the potential exists for public and private actors to speak openly and honestly about the urgent and complex global challenges facing us all. It is an opportunity to explore how we can successfully support business to move beyond their supply chain. Also, to take concrete action on the ground to fulfill international commitments, and continually create space for honest and open dialogue. In this way, this influential sectors can make significant contributions to reaching the Sustainable Development Goals and promoting stability in developing countries worldwide.

Image credit: Flickr/Department of Foreign Affairs

Lise Melvin is a part time Senior Programme Advisor at GCP, focusing on best practices for National Commodity Platforms and capacity building for platform practitioners. Before 2013, Lise served as founding Chief Executive of the Better Cotton Initiative for seven years. She has a BSc in Environmental Science, and an MSc in Responsibility in Business Practice. She has over 14 years of experience working globally on multi-sector dialogue, agriculture, sustainable development, and supply chains.

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