Why food companies need to support climate change adaption

September’s Foodservice Footprint will reveal the findings of a new government report showing that businesses are slow in adapting to climate change – especially the opportunities it provides. Here, Jessica Frank, climate change project manager at Twin, explains why adaptation is the key to survival.



CLIMATE CHANGE poses a major threat to global supply chains and the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in developing countries.  Food and beverage businesses need to start thinking long-term about supply as climate change threatens not just quantity but quality of produce too. It is time to start investing upstream in sustainable climate change adaptation strategies to guarantee supply into the future.


By investing in climate change adaptation, businesses can turn a core cost into a positive contribution to social and environmental sustainability.  These kinds of investments can help to safeguard supply in an increasingly unpredictable marketplace, as well as securing the livelihoods of producers, building long-lasting relationships and generating positive environmental impacts.


Working with smallholder farming cooperatives in the coffee, nuts and cocoa sector, Twin has seen first hand the effects of climate change on producers’ livelihoods.  Direct and indirect impacts of climate change on smallholder crops will include everything from changes in rainfall patterns impacting the quantity and quality of harvests to changes in plant phenology (for example flowering and ripening at the wrong time).


There are a number of adaptation strategies that can be put in place to combat these problems. In Uganda, for instance, we’ve been working for many years with the co-operative Gumutindo, whose high quality organic and Fairtrade certified coffee is sold through our trading company to buyers in the UK and US. In 2010-11, we carried out a risk assessment with farmers there to identify positive steps they could take to build resilience to climate change. Based on that, we’ve helped establish a community cow-share programme to provide organic manure, which enhances soil fertility and increases the resilience of coffee trees in the face of a more variable climate. Reforestation is also hugely important as it increases soil stability and provides much-needed shade for coffee to reduce under-canopy temperatures and improve quality.


Other adaptation strategies include the adoption of more sustainable agricultural practices such as erosion control measures, water conservation techniques and improved processing technologies.


Twin has recently launched, Adapt Now, an umbrella project for our climate change adaptation work which encourages and facilitates businesses to invest in their supply chains, identifying where the climate risks are greatest and delivering bespoke adaptation projects to cope with these risks.


Supporting adaptation in their supply chains now will help businesses be more resilient to the market shocks that climate change will inevitably bring. We are already facing major food supply issues. These will become critical without serious intervention from smarter businesses in the short to long term.


As well as helping to make their supply chains more sustainable in terms of quality and quantity, investing in adaptation delivers positive environmental impacts that can help businesses meet their sustainability targets, thus meeting stakeholder expectations. In terms of product differentiation, businesses can also take advantage of changes in consumer demands and preferences – promoting the ethical credentials of their produce.


Jessica Frank is climate change project manager at Twin, a pioneer of the fair trade movement in the UK. Established in 1985 it helped set up the UK’s first Fairtrade coffee brand Cafédirect and has also played a key role in starting other market-facing brands include Divine Chocolate and Liberation Foods CIC.