Global opportunity report 2018: Time for agribusinesses to lean into the SDGs?

  • Published: 7 February 2018
  • Author: Karen Pong

The Global Opportunity Report 2018i was released last week by DNV GL, the United Nations Global Compact and Sustainia . In its fourth year, the ambitious report takes stock of emerging global risks using the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework. The report boldly forecasts that not one of the 17 SDGs will be achieved in all regions in the world and some goals will not be met in any region (as highlighted in the diagram below).

However, the report shared that these leading global risks could be turned into business opportunities for four identified markets (namely health, food, water and energy). With an emphasis on the four SDGs that are mostly like to NOT meet the 2030 targets, the report explored opportunities of and the estimated impacts on business and society in markets mostly closely linked to Goal 10 “Reduced Inequalities”, Goal 12 “Responsible Consumption and Production”, Goal 13 “Climate Action”, and Goal 14 “Life Below Water”:

There is a clear correlation between the four markets and the agriculture industry. Indeed, the agribusiness sector is well positioned to take a leading role in achieving the SDGs with agriculture supporting nearly half of employment in the region. A well-performing and smartly regulated agribusiness sector can cater to rising food demands and can help fast-track international efforts to achieve SDG1 (no poverty) and SDG2 (zero hunger).ii

In 2017, CSR Asia published a study for Oxfam’s GRAISEA development programme in Southeast Asia, which highly recommended that agribusinesses NOT target all SDGs, but instead join forces in addressing those that have a high relevance to their business. Comparing the priorities identified in the 2017 study with the findings and suggestions of the Global Opportunity Report 2018, we see a lot of overlaps (as shown in the diagram below).


The above diagram shows the indicative prioritisation of SDGs for the agribusiness sector in ASEAN based on aggregating for each goal:

  • The relevance of each of its targets to agribusiness
  • The degree of impact agribusiness could potentially have by contributing to each target

The larger a box is, the greater the relevance and potential impact on its achievement as related to agribusiness. The four prioritized goals identified by the Global Opportunity Report 2018 were circled.

How can agribusinesses approach the SDGs and embrace the associated risks and opportunities? Below are some suggestions from CSR Asia and the Global Opportunity Report 2018:

Agribusinesses that support the productivity and prosperity of farmers, respect human rights, support gender transformative policies, and pay a living wage to workers can help reduce inequalities throughout the region.Ways to help achieve this SDG:
•  Connect small-scale farmers to markets
•  Ensure access to natural resources for
the most vulnerable
•  Generate employment in rural areas
where the most vulnerable people live
•  Reduce tariffs (while avoiding negative
repercussions on the importing country)
•  Create more export opportunities
Land degradation, declining soil fertility, unsustainable water use, overfishing, and marine environment degradation are all lessening the ability of the natural resource base to supply food. Satisfying expected increases in water, energy, and food needs means shifting to more sustainable consumption and production.Ways to help achieve this SDG:
•  Advocate for consumers to lead a healthier and sustainable lifestyle by shifting to more nutritious and safe diets with a lower environmental footprint
•  Improve packaging solutions to avoid spoilage and reduce waste
•  Reduce resources needed for production
•  Educate employees on modern handling methods of the product post-harvest
•  Train farmers on new techniques that preserve soil quality and ensure high quality products
•  Rethink production processes along the supply chain
Global Opportunity Report 2018 Case study:
bext360 in the USAThe solution utilises machine learning and artificial intelligence to source high-quality coffee products directly from the producer, and then employs blockchain technology to create a record of where the beans came from and who paid what for them. This process enables suppliers, retailers, and consumers to know that farmers at the bottom of the supply chain have been paid a fair price for that morning cup of coffee.
Global Opportunity Report 2018 Case study:
Biteback in IndonesiaBiteback has developed a process to extract oil from edible insects. Insects require little feed, water or land, and produce almost no greenhouse gases – a much more sustainable alternative to palm oil. In just one year, insects yield almost 38 times more oil than oil palms do using the same amount of land. As well as being eco-friendly, insect oil is healthy. And with oil present in most industrial food, there are health gains to be made. Insect oil is rich in healthy fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins, low in cholesterol, and does not require pesticides or fertilisers – a win for people and the planet.
Considering that most ASEAN economies are agriculture-based and have a large population of farmers, climate change is perhaps the largest threat to food security in the region. Consequently, its adverse effects can influence the lives of millions of farmers, particularly smallholders.Ways to help achieve this SDG:
• Reduce carbon footprint in all aspects of production 
• Improve energy efficiency throughout the supply chain 
• Set carbon reduction targets 
• Scale up innovative and inclusive low-carbon, climate-smart products and services 
• Prepare climate adaptation policies and build resilience in operations, supply chains, and communities
Oceans, seas, and coastal areas form the planet’s largest ecosystem and provide numerous essential goods and ecological services to support human well-being, nutrition, and global food security.Ways to help achieve this SDG:
• Advocate for waste and plastic pollution reduction and clean-up 
• Encourage and support certification of small-scale farms 
• Endorse mangrove conservation and restoration 
• Focus on alternative production of fishmeal 
• Open up opportunities for smallholder farmers through aquaculture improvement projects 
• Promote a sustainable aquaculture industry to provide greater supply chain transparency and management of fish supply for companies
Global Opportunity Report 2018 Case study:
GreenWave in the USA and CanadaGreenWave’s vertical ocean farming grows kelp, scallops, and mussels on floating ropes stacked above oyster and clam cages below. These underwater vertical gardens are able to grow 10 to 30 tons of sea vegetables and 250,000 shellfish per acre per year. The kelp is also a strong carbon sink, absorbing five times more carbon than terrestrial plants, and requires zero input, unlike terrestrial equivalents. This approach creates resilient, biodiverse ecosystems using the entire water column. GreenWave wants to spread its practices, and will partner with any interested boat-owner with $20,000 for start-up costs.
Global Opportunity Report 2018 Case study:
Matorka in IcelandThe Icelandic company is using land-based aquaculture to reduce the negative environmental consequences associated with wild fish farming. The carbon-neutral fish farm relies on excess hot water from nearby geothermal power stations for its energy needs and has a strong focus on fish health, meaning zero use of antibiotics, hormones, or chemicals. Matorka is in the process of designing another 3,000-tonne multi-species aquaculture system, incorporating further circular design principles to make use of wastewater and unused organic material. Using land-based aquaculture systems, Matorka does not contribute to the pollution or genetic modification of wild fish stocks, unlike cage-based aquaculture in the ocean.

CSR Asia can provide the following services to assist your business on this topic:

  • Provide training to internal stakeholders to increase understanding of the SDGs
  • Conduct research and provide information on sustainable development issues connected to the SDGs (through publications, articles, events)
  • Be your content partner if your ambition is to be a thought leader in a specific area of the SDGs
  • Assist in measuring impact and communicating progress
  • Conduct an alignment analysis of your strategy and business against the SDGs to identifying gaps and opportunities
  • Identify the SDGs to focus on and to take meaningful action
  • Develop a strategy and plans for action to support the SDGs

Contact Karen Pong ([email protected]) or Rebecca Walker Chan ([email protected]) for more details.

Recommended reading:

Agribusiness and the SDGs: How the Agribusiness Sector in ASEAN can embrace the Sustainable Development Goals
Agribusiness in ASEAN: Making the Case for Smallholder Inclusion

Cited Sources:

i. Global Opportunity Report 2018 – DNV GL, the United Nations Global Compact and Sustainability