Maitland/AMO Sustain – In the Hot Seat with Jason Archie-Acheampong, Head of CSR at Rush Group

by Zara de Belder | 25th August 2020

Welcome to ‘In the Hot Seat’, a fortnightly series where we tackle some of the biggest questions facing sustainability professionals across a range of industries. We’ll also explore what sustainability means and how it is interpreted across different sectors and geographies.

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This week, Zara de Belder, Head of Maitland/AMO Sustain catches up with Jason Archie-Acheampong, Head of CSR at fresh produce suppliers, Rush Group to discuss supply chain risks and the resilience of our food systems.

1. Covid-19 has exposed the risks of concentrated food supply chains. Looking to the post-pandemic recovery, how can we ensure the resilience of our food systems?

We need to find ways to reduce our reliance on foreign exports. For instance, here in the UK we produce approximately only half of the food we consume both government and the private sector must work to bring about ways in which we can develop our national capacity to produce the food we eat.

But the fact is that we are part of a globalised foods system and in the meantime we need to makesure global producers whose livelihoods depend on the success of their farms are resilient. We must not ignore the fact that the agri-foods industry is connected globally and therefore those that produce what we eat and the environments in which they grow must be supported with the
infrastructure to resiliently respond in the face of external shocks like we have seen with Covid 19.

Additionally to improve supply chain resilience we need to address food waste across supply chains. One way we currently do this at Rush Group is through processing surplus or unwanted fresh produce into value added products. But as an industry we need to see greater investment into the food waste tech sector in order to monitor and reduce waste before it gets to our supermarket

2. Sustainability in supply chains has been a hot topic the last few weeks. As a global business, how do you manage supply chain risks?

There are several ways, one way is how we prioritise partnerships with our growers, regularly understanding the challenges they face and collaboratively finding solutions to address these. Whether it’s through providing our expertise on enhancing productivity and farming practices, to financially investing in farms, this helps producers minimise their risks and in doing so ours too. Moreover, by pursuing direct relationships with our growers across the globe it enables us to preempt supply issues. We mirror this form of interaction with large manufacturers and retailers as we regularly interact and provide feedback on challenges being faced upstream in the supply chain. In doing so it gives us the ability to proactively safeguard against supply chain risks.

3. What are the next big trends in agri-tech?

There are three trends that come to mind and they mainly relate to changes we are experiencing when it comes to what we eat, the increasing complexity of global supply chains and finding ways to feed an ever increasing global population.

Demand for vegan based products looks like it is here to stay and as consumers reduce meat consumption agritech firms will be increasingly vital in creating the technologies that commercialise plant based food on a large scale. Moreover, as populations increase, arable land to grow food will become harder to access, so the use of innovative forms of technology to produce food grown using unconventional methods may become more common. We are already seeing it in the manufacturing of plant-based meat alternatives and in vertical farming.

Then there is spatial data mapping. Volatile weather in the form of droughts or excessive rainfall presents significant risks in the form of crop failure for farmers. Climate spatial data mapping offers a way in which to protect yields, minimise risks and ultimately prevent crop failure. For businesses, like Rush Group, this technology presents potential opportunities when forecasting and identifying new growing locations.

Blockchain technologies can help enable greater efficiency across supply chains, from the moment a crop is picked on a farm to when it is stored thousands of miles away in another country to be packed for domestic retail supermarkets. The use of blockchain can record the process at each stage and arguably provide more reliable information. We are yet to see it being used widely across
the industry and we’ve probably got a while to go before we do. But as consumers demand more from retailers and brands in terms of revealing how and where their food has been produced, the use for blockchain technologies to improve transparency and reduce communication gaps will become significantly important.

4. If you have one piece of advice for someone considering a career in responsible investing, what would it be?

Like any career try and discover what value you bring to the space in which you work. Challenge the status quo. The beauty of a career in responsible investment is that you are a part of a complex
network of private, governmental and voluntary actors each playing a uniquely valuable role in shaping societies for future generations. Hold tight onto the value you can bring and let that guide
your choices.

5. Finally, what does sustainability mean to you?

It’s one of those buzz words, that everyone loves to use and do so in varying ways. So I’ll just add to that.

For me it’s where businesses recognise their role not only in creating value for consumers through providing services and products, but with integrity and sincerity accepting their responsibility to act as stewards of the communities and environments in which they operate and benefit from.

Pursuing sustainability in this way is no simple task, it’s ambitious and complex but doing so in this way can be the basis of future proofing a business, safeguarding livelihoods and regenerating our environment.

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About the Author

Zara de Belder

Zara is Head of Maitland/AMO Sustain and specialises in ESG communications and strategy development

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