For any food and agriculture supply chain actor with a sustainability target, carbon farming is a promising solution. But supply chain actors are not the first to look at carbon farming to meet these targets. What are the consequences, and how can we tackle them?
In the past few years, governments have set and refined their nationally determined contribution (NDC) targets, often incorporating agriculture. Next to countries, the voluntary carbon market (VCM) has been developing carbon removal projects on farm level. In the past, there has been critique on national-level and VCM carbon projects. Most criticism is related to the distribution of benefits, as communities and indigenous people involved in the projects were poorly or not at all compensated for the work.
With supply chain actors recently becoming much more interested in carbon farming and removals, new risks arise that are not well addressed. For supply chain actors, the key risk is contributing to carbon colonialism. This term relates to farmers - especially smallholder farmers - who are excluded from carbon benefits and fair treatment. Therefore, the Fair & Smart Data spearhead has drafted key criteria for supply chain decarbonization with smallholder farmers:
No double claiming of carbon farming interventions: the company needs to demonstrate that the farmers and their surrounding area (i.e., the geographical area a company can ’claim’ removals from under the SBTi guidance, which goes beyond the farm level) have not participated in any of the following:
- (Voluntary) carbon credit schemes (VCM)
- Governmental carbon reduction schemes (NDC)
- Other supply chain decarbonizing schemes, with the same farmers counted in another company’s scope 3
Contracts about carbon can only be signed with informed consent: any farmer who signs a contract agreeing to sell their carbon to a company needs to be fully informed about the alternative routes to monetize their carbon removals and reductions. Companies need to explain the carbon market, the current prices and the projection of the prices for the duration of the contract (e.g., see McKinsey ).
The foundational assumption for these key criteria is that farmers, even smallholders, always have access to the voluntary carbon market (VCM). This means that the farmer can decide if they want to participate in insetting/decarbonizing supply chains or if they want to use the VCM to start carbon farming.
This assumption differs from the smallholder farmers’ relationship with supply chain actors in selling produce; in those cases, the farmers have only a fraction of the bargaining power because the product is physical and dependent on local supply chains. Project ACORN has proven that smallholders have that bargaining power with carbon, and many other initiatives are doing the same. It is vital not to remove farmers’ carbon bargaining power because that would only enforce structural inequality.
Cover and preview photo: Rabobank, ACORN