From the Experts: Unilever Executive Continues His Reflection on the Future of SustainabiltyJanuary 17, 2013
Earlier this week, we published a thoughtful piece from Unilever’s chief executive Paul Polman. Here, Polman continues his reflection on the future of sustainable business and addresses the role of women in agriculture.
One key to breaking the relentless cycle of poverty and underdevelopment is supporting the role of women in agriculture. The FAO has recently published a report, which highlighted the fact that 43 percent of agricultural workers in developing nations are women.
Women have both the greatest responsibility and the fewest resources to ensure food for their communities. Limited access to land, finance and training, together with cultural factors, constrain women’s ability to produce and deliver adequate nutrition for their families.
Yet all the evidence indicates that, if these women had the same access to resources as their male counterparts, they could increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 percent, raise the total global agricultural output by 4 percent and reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 17 percent.
Alongside championing a more equitable role for women, we must also provide the tools and resources to realize agricultural change. We must harness the latest technologies, whether mobile phones, irrigation systems or farm machinery, to connect rural communities and better enable farmers to produce crops in a sustainable way.
We must also ensure that governments play their part in delivering a sustainable future. At the Rio Earth Summit last year I saw how many now question the ability of international negotiations to agree binding treaties on issues such as sustainable development and climate change, but we must not let them off the hook so easily.
Government engagement remains key to creating the enabling environment and the right incentives to drive systems change in the long term, There are indeed many political leaders who are making this a priority in their own countries and we should applaud them for doing so.
We must continue to foster public-private partnerships — such as Unilever’s collaboration with the Tanzanian government and other businesses to establish the
Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania, which aims to transform the area’s agricultural productivity.
Only by working collaboratively, by harnessing the joint resources, reach and energy of the public and private sectors, will we have the scale and impetus necessary to drive forward new models of sustainable production and consumption.
Industry-wide action — such as the Global Consumer Goods Forum’s commitment to end deforestation throughout the supply chain by 2020 — is also vital. I was very pleased to be involved this year in the CGF’s agreement with the US Government to co-host a partnerships dialogue on public-private efforts to help realize this goal.
As a CEO, I know something about the importance of goals; of outlining a clear, measurable path to a target.
Goals form the basis of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. They focus our energy, challenging us each day to do better, and strive harder to enable our suppliers, our consumers and our employees to build a more sustainable, equitable and inclusive future.
Over the last decade the Millennium Development Goals have provided a framework which has focused action on international development and poverty reduction.
While success has been uneven, we must recognize the tremendous impact that this shared vision has had on progress, prompting collaboration between NGOs, governments and progressive companies towards making a real and tangible difference to people and their communities.
Earlier this year I was honored to be asked by the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, to join the High Level Panel which is reviewing the MDGs and where we need to go next. It is not an easy task to consider how a new set of goals might be structured in a way that takes account of all the urgent issues that now face us.
But what is clear to me is that we must all do more to recognize the intertwined nature of social, environment and economic sustainability:
- Poverty cannot be overcome while ignoring environmental degradation.
- Economic growth cannot only benefit the rich at the expense of the poor.
- Food and nutritional security cannot only be a matter of producing more food, but also ensuring that it is produced in a sustainable way and that it is distributed to those that need it most.
Let us inspire better care of our planet, by advancing knowledge of the natural world. By inspiring those around us, we can reach the scale necessary to effect a sea change in the way we treat our planet and each other.
If we are to truly deliver the Rainforest Alliance’s vision of a world where “people and the environment prosper together” we must push back the boundaries of what others say is possible and instead focus on what is necessary.
The challenge is great, but so is the opportunity. So let us not rest on our laurels. To paraphrase a line by the great British playwright George Bernard Shaw, and made famous by the US politician Robert F. Kennedy: “Some people see the world as it is and ask: what can I do? Young people see the world as it could be and say: together we can.”