Reclaiming sustainability: Solidaridad’s strategy for the years ahead

We’ve titled this strategy ‘reclaiming sustainability.’ It emphasizes our commitment to transforming sustainability from eroded product labels to genuine value for workers and producers in the chain. Because when even sustainability initiatives designed to improve livelihoods are failing smallholder farmers and workers, we have to conclude that sustainability has lost its true meaning. There is no such thing as sustainability when the people who produce those goods live in poverty and when natural resources are not managed sustainably. 

So we need a new economy. An economy that works for the poor, with a better balance between local economic development and globalization. This better balance — which we refer to as glocality — will require increased and renewed ownership. Ownership in all its aspects: receiving a fair price, a fair share, fair pay and fair labour conditions. We will continue to work on this in three strategic pathways, running through four interconnected levels: the farm or site level, the business ecosystem level, the policy level and the market level. 

The global pathway of sector transformation

 A key objective in the pathway of sector transformation is to decrease inequality in the supply chain and to ensure that farmers and workers earn a decent living income. The global pathway requires interventions at every level: 

  • Support farmers to adapt their products, diversifying, and improving quality to increase their chances to earn more from existing supply chains.
  • Facilitate and stimulate farmers to own and run activities further up the supply chain, such as processing – and providing the skills and knowledge training they need to do so.
  • Support governments of middle and low-income countries need to create their own visions and systems that create an internal movement to raise the floor of sustainability. 
  • Urge companies, governments and finance institutions to walk the talk.
  • Refocus our partnerships away from fast-moving consumer goods companies who are not applying genuine sustainability standards, to companies with alternative ownership models who are using their benefits for the benefit of society.
  • Continue to campaign for procurement of sustainably produced goods among governments, companies and consumers.

The local pathway of resilient local food systems

The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the importance of a localized robust and resilient food system that functions in all circumstances, and is capable of ensuring access to a sufficient supply of affordable food from nearby farmers for citizens. Soon, over 80 percent of the world’s food will be consumed in cities. Now, many of the food products consumed in these cities are highly processed industry products with lots of fat, sugar and salt, purchased from global sellers. If more people in these cities would be able to consume food that is locally grown and processed, fitting in a sustainable and healthy diet (such as the planetary health diet), it can have significant benefits. This pathway is particularly relevant in commodity sectors like fruits and vegetables and dairy. 

To establish resilient local food systems for healthy and sustainable diets we need interventions on all levels: 

  • Educate farmers on the need to diversify their product mix: farmers need to grow a broader variety of products targeted to local needs. Market demand for food products as part of a healthy and sustainable diet is increasing and driving significant change in the food market. This creates new opportunities for farmers, fishers and aquaculture producers, as well as for food processors and food services.
  • Develop entrepreneurship among farmers to take up activities further up the local supply chain and off-farm, such as waste management, supplying seedlings or setting up farmer markets. 
  • Support farmers to produce circular: re-use waste from the cities, use and provide renewable energy, create clean water.  Bring different parties in the local food system together, to create a well-functioning system with the right policies in place, making sure everyone’s voice is heard. 
  • Stimulate schools, hospitals and other public institutions to procure healthy, safe, sustainable, and locally produced food.

Solidaridad’s goals are to reduce the environmental and climate footprint of the regional food systems where we work while strengthening its resilience in the face of climate change and biodiversity loss. 

The industrial pathway of improved labour

This third pathway is committed to improving labour conditions for workers. This pathway is particularly relevant within the more industrial commodity sectors like mining and textiles and larger processing industries.

Our current economic system favours capital way more than it does labour. This is harmful to the wellbeing of communities. The need for decent work as a good practice is an understatement with half of the working world in vulnerable and poverty jobs. On top of that, many workers on farms, in mines, and in industry face the risk of losing their job as a consequence of modernization. With capital intensive technology, usually leading to automation, mechanization, and urbanization comes jobless growth. The fourth industrial revolution is coming in fast, and jobs are at stake. 

Solidaridad will stimulate producers (farmers, factories, mine owners and companies) to offer decent work, safe working conditions, and true living wages for all workers, while paying special attention to the specific conditions and needs of women and youth. A few of our key interventions in this pathway include: 

  • Offer the right training and support for workers to find employability elsewhere, often in more meaningful jobs. We improve employability by offering training and retraining to young workforces to remain competitive with adequate skills.
  • Thus far, we have tried to promote decent work mostly via voluntary sustainability standards. This has not brought the scale we are looking for. Mandatory standards and (digital) data solutions are needed to move decent work and working conditions beyond a compliance issue. We also work to create the necessary civic space to give voice to labourers, in particular women, in improving their job conditions.
  • In particular in local circular food systems (see the local pathway) there is potential for the creation of green jobs. Solidaridad interventions can stimulate the creation of such jobs and increase the market for services or goods that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources. Think hereby of meaningful jobs in waste management, pollution reduction, alternative energy, reforestation, agricultural education, or ecology.

Within all these categories, specific attention will be required for women and youth. 

Working together for meaningful change

If we care about sustainability, and care about the future of our companies, communities, and countries, we need to work together to create meaningful change in the lives of millions of farmers and workers throughout the world. Let’s build a future in which communities of farmers and workers enjoy prosperity, inclusion, and a balance with nature – not in spite of their supply chains, but because of them.

Our strategy builds on the 50-year journey this organization has been following towards an economy that works for all. We hope it will inspire you to join us on this journey for the years to come!

Please read the summary of the strategy here. A full version can be downloaded here.