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Saving a Global Food Staple: The Future of Rice in Our Hands

Mars Food helps drive new standard for sustainability

01/25/2016

In much of the world, we take rice for granted. We’ve got canisters of it in our cupboards, and it’s readily available in our stores. Indeed, we can take it or leave it as part of our daily meals.

But for billions of people around the globe, rice is the only thing standing between a full stomach and going to bed hungry. For millions of farmers, it’s the only difference between a decent wage and destitution – and the only thing keeping their children alive. But with the world’s population expanding towards ten billion in the next 40 years, we face a very real threat: there may not be enough rice to go around.

Demand for rice is predicted to double by 2050, but producers – many of whom are smallholder farmers – can’t keep up. And simply growing more rice isn’t an option. Rice production is having a troubling effect on the environment, in terms of both water use and emissions.

This week, the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) – of which Mars, Incorporated is a proud member – launched the first-ever global standard for sustainable rice. Everyone in the rice supply chain will be able to use this standard to reduce the environmental footprint of growing rice and improve the lives of rice farmers.

Kristin Hughes, Mars Food’s Global Director of Nutrition & Wellness and Sustainability, explained our role and how we will use the new standard: “We helped shape the SRP standard and we will be using it to sustainably source 100% of our rice by 2020. We’ve already started to pilot the SRP standard in India and Pakistan. Partnering with Bayer CropScience and the International Rice Research Institute, we invested in a controlled farming program in Pakistan, and are now rolling it out to parts of India. The key has been offering incentives to farmers to take part – we can then provide training and support on how to make their farms more sustainable. It’s a win-win for all involved.”

Kristin spoke at the SRP’s 5th Annual Plenary and General Assembly in Manila this week. The SRP was created in 2011 to identify and promote practices that can reduce the impact of rice production on the environment, making it more sustainable for years to come. The new standard is made up of 46 requirements organized under eight broad topics, including productivity, food safety, worker health, labor rights, and biodiversity.

Mars Food’s efforts to improve the sustainability of global rice production are part of our wider corporate commitment to tackle the greatest environmental and social impacts in our supply chain. Since 2007, our sustainable sourcing strategy has focused on eight raw materials: black tea, cocoa, coffee, fish, mint, palm oil, peanuts and rice. In 2014, we added commitments on beef, paper and pulp, and soy. All told, Mars, Incorporated’s updated sourcing strategy will cover 23 raw materials, covering 60% of our sourcing volume. We have a lot of work still to do, but we’re proud of some of our key achievements to date:

  • We now source 100% of our coffee and black tea from certified sources;
  • 84% of our palm oil is now traceable to known mills;
  • 26% of our fish and seafood are from sustainable sources, putting us on track to fulfill our target of only sourcing 100% sustainable fish by 2020;
  • We’ve increased our purchase of certified cocoa to 36% of total volumes, moving closer to our target of 100% certified cocoa by 2020;
  • In 2014, 82.5% of our packaging was recyclable or recoverable, where infrastructure exists.

 

As the owner of the world’s largest global rice brand, Uncle Bens®, Mars Food plans to lead the way in making rice more sustainable. But as Kristin remarked at the SRP launch in Manila, we can’t do it alone: “Today we ask others to join us. We must work together and we must bring others along on the journey. The SRP standard helps carve the path toward a brighter and more sustainable world for all of us. We are taking an important first step together toward making sustainably sourced rice a global reality.”