Co-op seeks sustainable agriculture innovations for grant funding

The Co-op and its charitable foundation are seeking innovative projects that reduce the food supply chain’s reliance on synthetic fertilisers and soy-based animal and fish feed, in a bid to scale more climate-friendly approaches.

Co-op seeks sustainable agriculture innovations for grant funding

Pictured: Malawi Fruits, which was awarded CIF funding under the first round

The Co-op Foundation has this week opened the second round of its £3.5m Carbon Innovation Fund (CIF), following a successful first round that allocated almost £1.4m of grants to projects reducing CO2 emissions in agricultural supply chains.

Winners under the first round included Cornwall-based Fal Fishery Cooperative, which produces oyster larvae that can be grown to capture carbon and clean waters; Edinburgh-based community farm Agroecology Cooperative and The Fairtrade Foundation. The latter received funding for work in Uganda to produce cooking fuel from used coffee grounds, thus mitigating the need for more polluting fuels.

This time around, the Co-op Foundation is focusing specifically on innovations that can reduce the use of soy-based animal feed. Almost 80% of the soy grown globally every year is fed to livestock, with only a minority being used to produce food for human consumption. Soy is a commodity with a significant deforestation risk, and only 3% of the soy produced in 2020 by volume was certified as deforestation-free.

Another focus area for this funding round is reducing the use of synthetic fertilizer. Many farms have seen fertilizer costs skyrocket over the past year, with Russia’s war in Ukraine pushing fertiliser costs to record highs by October 2022. Russia and Ukraine together exported 28% of fertilizers made from nitrogen and phosphorous, as well as potassium, in 2021, according to Morgan Stanley.

Innovative alternatives could help farmers to avoid this cost challenge while also tackling environmental issues such as nutrient runoff and soil degradation.

Co-op’s director of propositions, Adele Balmforth, said the focus on fertilizers and soy supply chains “will not only support Co-op but the wider food industry”.

Round two of the CIF will award a minimum of five grants and a maximum of 10. Each project will receive between £75,000 and £200,000, with the winners due to be unveiled later this year.

Part of the funding for the CIF is raised through the sale of compostable carrier bags in Co-op food stores across the UK.

Balmforth added: “Collaboration is key to unlocking the carbon reductions that are needed to protect our planet, which is why the CIF is so integral in our ambitious pathway to net-zero.” The Co-op is committed to reaching net-zero carbon across all scopes, for all Group activities, by 2040, under a roadmap published in 2021.

Restoring Britain’s rainforests

In related news, Aviva has this week confirmed a £38m donation to the Wildlife Trusts, to be used to support the restoration of ‘lost rainforests’ in the UK and Ireland. Aviva is making the donation as part of a £100m philanthropic programme to support nature-based climate solutions in the UK and Ireland.

The Wildlife Trusts is planning to re-establish some 5,200 acres of temperate rainforest by planting and nurturing native tree species such as oak, birch, holly, rowan, alder and willow.

Temperate rainforest currently covers less than 1% of the UK’s area, with patches in the Lake District, west Wales and west Scotland. By expanding these rainforests, benefits could be reaped such as improved carbon sequestration and improved biodiversity. On the biodiversity front, species that the Wildlife Trusts expects to be supported by the expanded rainforests include bats, pine martens, red squirrels and wood warblers.

The Wildlife Trusts estimates that its work on this project will sequester around 800,000 tonnes of CO2e within 100 years, starting in 2023. Offsets relating to this sequestered carbon will be available to purchase by businesses.

Explaining this approach, the Wildlife Trusts’ chief executive Craig Bennett said the NGO has “very strict criteria for what it considers to be a high-integrity carbon credit scheme”.

Bennett said “We believe that there needs to be a huge increase in nature-based solutions to climate change – but it is critical that these solutions are not used as an excuse to carry on with a polluting ‘business-as-usual’ model which fails to reduce emissions at source.

“Too often, businesses try to put the genie back in the bottle. But Aviva is taking a more far-sighted approach; it is investing in restoring nature to store carbon 20 years before the carbon associated with Aviva’s potential investments goes into the atmosphere. This is to be applauded.”

Research published in January, following polling more than 500 senior sustainability professionals, found that 41% are not procuring carbon credits for their organisation due to a lack of trust.

Aviva is working towards a 2040 net-zero target, first published in May 2021. In publishing that target, the business confirmed plans to divest from – and end new investment in – any company deriving 5% of revenues from coal in any geography. The firm is aiming to achieve net-zero for operations and the supply chain by 2030 and for investments by 2040.

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