Our research, in partnership with World Wildlife Fund (WWF), seeks to answer the question, what are the leverage points in the Brazilian beef value chain that will help reduce deforestation and land use impacts in the Amazon region?

Global population growth is increasing the consumption of food, fuel, and fiber and placing great demands on the planet’s natural resources. Meeting the basic needs of 9 billion people by 2050 will likely require more agricultural production, which can have harmful impacts on land use, biodiversity, water, and the climate. It is likely that changes in the climate will affect the current landscape of resource distribution and may require mitigation and adaptation strategies. Agricultural and resource production already impacts many of the planet’s bio diverse and productive areas and any increase in cultivation has the potential to cause further damage. Going forward, businesses will need to improve their sustainability efforts, producing ever-larger amounts of goods with more stringent resource constraints. Developing supply chain strategies that secure access to supply, improve impacts on people and the environment, and maintain their license to operate will be vital to any successful business. A majority of the environmental and social impacts of a company’s supply chain lie outside of their direct operations, further complicating their supply chain management. Additionally, current sourcing models don’t shed much light on company supply chains, which are based on transactional relationships, focusing on price, quantity, and quality, with suppliers. Sourcing models will need to be expanded to be more strategic, taking into account sustainability metrics and attributes in addition to current considerations. It will be difficult to convince risk adverse companies that such a fundamental change in sourcing models is the best long-term strategy unless they understand the business case surrounding the new model. New models can add value to organizations by taking into account risk mitigation, resource use efficiency, supply security, brand equity, and reputational risk management, among other factors.

Companies are increasingly expected to understand the full range of impacts of their products and services.  The complicated and fairly opaque value chain of major world commodities, such as beef, makes it difficult for companies to do this.  Lack of knowledge makes companies vulnerable to supply disruptions and “brand disruptions” due to social and environmental issues that may arise far down the value chain.  For companies developing CSR strategies and commitments that relate to sourcing and processing steps, better understanding of the value chain is necessary for measuring and proving impact.  For all of these reasons, better processes for mapping the value chain, determining where risk lies, and identifying potential leverage points is necessary.

Methods:  We will begin by conducting a literature review in order to understand the main players in the beef industry in Brazil, and the primary environmental impacts. This literature will be sourced from industry trade journals, academic papers, and WWF’s research. We will also participate in an orientation with WWF staff so that we can better understand their methods for value chain analysis and the data that they have previously collected. We have also started to meet with value chain analysis experts at Duke University’s Center Globalization, Governance and Competitiveness and to review their past reports. This will help us to understand how to adapt the flexible value chain framework to best suit WWF’s goal to improve the sustainability of the beef industry and ensure that consumers have choices for a safe, affordable, and sustainable diet.

We will develop a value chain of the beef industry in Brazil. This value chain will be used to assist in answering our key research questions. Additionally, we may choose to conduct interviews, with the assistance of WWF staff, with industry experts. These interviews will be used to gather additional information and validate the research that we conduct.

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