In response to concerns from consumers about the carbon footprint of fresh produce, the South African fruit and wine industry has launched a multi-million rand research scheme to establish how the industry’s carbon emissions compare to international competitors. The R2.8-million carbon footprint research scheme, jointly funded by industry sectors and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) will measure the carbon footprint of the industry and then address how it can achieve carbon neutral status.
The research comes on the back of a two-fold climate change crunch for agriculture. On the one side changes in temperature and rainfall are effecting traditional growing areas, especially in the Western Cape.
But with large amounts of produce exported the need for the sector to understand its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions has become critical.
Some 30% of South Africa’s wine exports go to Britain while 34% of fresh fruit exports go to Europe and about 20% to the United Kingdom, according to the ComMark Trust, a funder of the project.
In January last year, Tesco’s, the UK’s largest retailer, announced that it would label its products according to the amount of carbon emissions they produced. This has led to fears that produce from Africa in particular will be unfairly prejudiced.
The message is clear: If South Africa wants to maintain and expand its overseas markets, its agricultural products will have to be measured according to their carbon emissions.
Hugh Campbell, general manager of Deciduous Fruit Producers Trust Research, which is coordinating the research, said there had been a “lull” in the carbon labelling process since the Tesco announcement as retailers figured out how to implement the system. “But it is not going to go away,” he said.
It’s with this understanding that it was important for the market to take the step in establishing their carbon footprint “before the sluice gates close on the market side”, said Campbell.
Part of the battle was to change the mindset from a focus on food miles to the overall carbon footprint of produce. Some research has shown that produce grown in artificial conditions in Europe can have a higher carbon footprint than produce that has clocked up food miles.
The research will see the development of a “carbon-calculator” for the industry to ensure that producers are using standards that can be measured against international benchmarks.
The standards developed will measure the carbon emissions of each input in the production and transport chain, allowing for the carbon intensity of the industry to be benchmarked. The result, it is hoped, will lead to informed and authoritative comment, debate and negotiation by industry stakeholders and policy-makers.
* Reporting by Patrick Burnett. Published in MindShift, Spring 2008.