Sustainable Agri-Food Supply Chains

Current Activities

Two pilot projects are underway – representing one agricultural commodity supply chain, and one commercial fishery supply chain. UNEP is partnering with national governments, research institutions, producer groups, retailers, and civil society in formulating sustainability goals and indicators and in developing supply chain strategies and organization.

Promoting Sustainable Management of the Spiny Lobster Commercial Fishery in Northeastern Brazil

Northeast Brazil’s Spiny Lobster fishery is the country’s most valuable fishery, responsible for USD 92 million in exports (FAO 2007) and employing, directly and indirectly, more than 150,000 people in one of Brazil’s most underdeveloped regions. The USA and the EU are the largest markets for the fishery, importing 80% and 17% of the yearly catch, respectively.


Photograph by Michelle Leung

The lobster population has been in decline since reliable scientific measurement began. Additionally, new import regulations imposed by the EU are adding increased pressure for sustainable management practice, and a large illegal fishing fleet at work, the lobster population has been in decline since reliable scientific measurement began.  Additionally, new import regulations imposed by the EU are adding increased pressure for sustainable management of the fishery.  Large retailers in Northern markets have also signalled a desire for sustainably sourced seafood. If Brazil seeks to retain its market share, as well as the long term viability of the lobster resource, new ecosystem based approaches to management must be adopted. Capacity must be built throughout the value chain to bolster the fishery’s ability to meet the new, market-driven sustainability thresholds.

UNEP is working in partnership with the Government of Brazil's Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Ministry Of Environment, the Marine Sciences Institute (Labomar) at the Federal University of Ceará, Fortaleza, fisher groups, processors, retailers and civil society groups. This will build the necessary capacity to support the government's recently released national management plan for more sustainable exploitation of the lobster fishery. By working together with partners in the private and public sectors, the goal is to identify tools and build key partnerships to promote sustainability throughout a well-coordinated supply chain. Labomar is currently conducting a series of 5 studies, the content of which were identified through a process of stakeholder consultation. 

These studies will provide the basis for a set of sustainable management recommendations that will be presented at a consultative workshop to be held late in 2010.  Recommendations will be shared with the aim of securing consensus amongst stakeholders on next steps to be taken for ensuring long-term sustainability of the industry.

  • Diagnosis of the lobster fishery:  Overview of the 4 main landing ports in Ceará: Icapui, Fortim, Trairi, Acarau. This research aims at providing baseline data on the lobster stock, the fishing effort, and on the existing physical infrastructure and legal/regulatory frameworks that govern the industry.
  • Best practices for optimal product quality. This will identify and analyze the results of ongoing trials of various practices designed to increase the quality of the lobster at the point of processing.
  • Complete supply chain mapping. This study is central to this project’s ultimate success and to building relationships with international retailers. This will incorporate a complete map of the lobster supply chain from ‘capture to consumption’. It aims at understanding the motivations of every actor on the supply chain, and their potential role in promoting the trade of sustainable products.  The supply chain study will require the full cooperation of all supply chain actors both local and international.
  • Alternative livelihood opportunities. A clear understanding of the fishery’s and region’s socioeconomics is essential to addressing the sustainability challenge. Alternative livelihoods will be analyzed, as well as the role of aquaculture in reducing the fishing effort, especially of the illegal fleet.
  • Investigation and analysis of market and policy tools for sustainable management of the lobster fishery. The purpose of this study is to understand precisely what tools exist to promote sustainable management of lobster fisheries – both market based and regulatory.

Promoting Sustainable Rice Production in Thailand’s Central Valley

Thailand is the world’s largest rice exporter, annually shipping 5-6 million tons of milled rice worth USD 2.1 billion, which constitutes 3.6% of the country’s total export earnings (IRRI 1996). 52% of Thailand’s population is agricultural and the majority of Thai farmers grow rice on more than half of the total cultivated land in the country.

Thailand produces lower-grade varieties of rice, as well as high-quality, long-grain white rice, which commands a premium on the world market. The recent surge in Vietnam’s lower cost production of the lower-grade varieties is likely to cut significantly into Thailand’s future export potential of these varieties.  However, expanding populations and rising incomes, globally, signal a long-term growth in demand for higher quality, long-grain rice. Thailand is well positioned to supply this demand if it can increase long-grain production while maintaining its premium quality.  The challenges are largely environmental:  unsustainable production patterns are responsible for declining arable land and water supplies, as well as a deteriorating soil, water and biotic resource base on which all agriculture depends.

UNEP is working with :

Thailand's Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives' Rice Department, the International Rice Research Institute, the Asian Institute of Technology, IIED and AidEnvironment to devise supply chain strategies for the sustainable production of quality rice in Thailand's Central Valley, where 30% of all Thai rice is produced.

In February 2010, a technical workshop was convened bringing together a wide spectrum of stakeholders, including the Government of Thailand, FAO, IRRI, and Thai traders and farmers. From the results of this workshop a series of sub-studies were identified that would contribute to the development of a set of measures to help Thailand achieve better resource-efficiency, and eventually sustainability, in their rice production systems and supply chain. The 4 sub-studies encompass the following:

  • Resource efficiency in rice production in Thailand’s Central Plain. This study aims to provide a baseline analysis of resource efficiency in rice production in the central irrigated plain. It will look specifically at incentives and regulations to improve resource efficiency including on-farm best management practices, market mechanisms, and local public policy arrangements.
  • Post-harvest efficiency. This study will investigate the inefficiencies and losses in post-harvest processes including drying, transport and milling.
  • Inventory of ecosystem services. This will attempt to demarcate and describe the agro-ecosystem of the central plain in Thailand, the services it provides to the farmers and also to downstream users.
  • Actor analysis and identification of levers. This study will focus on identifying the most significant actors involved in the rice supply chain. Also levers will be identified and will feed into the identification of potential interventions.