Producers and consumers heavily influence food production but so, too, can governments, banks and lending institutions. However, the laws that govern food production and food-related investments often neglect its environmental impacts. To create a truly sustainable food system, we need to enlist policy-makers and those members of the finance industry who have a stake in food production and distribution. WWF is on the front foot, engaging with government agencies to promote food industry regulations that take environmental values into account. We're also supporting the development of sensitive infrastructure for transport and energy used by the food industry. When it comes to commercial lending and investment in food production, we believe that banks and asset managers should subject prospective borrowers and investee companies to rigorous sustainability assessments. This would allow money managers to screen out high-risk operations and allocate capital to more responsible clients and sustainable enterprises.

What we're doing

Woman drying fish in Kalimantan, Indonesia
© WWF-Aus / Tim Cronin

Overseas aid

Australia is an important aid donor and major source of grants and concessional finance to developing country governments, companies and non-government organisations. A significant share of this funding goes toward developing food and agricultural projects, or to building public infrastructure used by the food industry. Unfortunately, not all developing countries have strong environmental laws and agencies capable of protecting endangered species and habitats. WWF seeks to influence Australian aid policies and practices to ensure that public and private development assistance for food production is guided by best-practice sustainability principles.


Resource planning and regulation

Sustainable food production starts with careful agricultural planning. At the front line, WWF supports land use planning to clarify land use rights, identify ‘high conservation value’ and ‘high carbon stock’ forests, and focus land development on previously cleared or degraded areas. Using these and other tools, we aim to strike a better balance between food production and forest conservation.

In July 2014 WWF organised a filming trip to North Queensland to get footage and stories to showcase the great work with farmers. WWF work with farmers; the sugar industry and partners to improve water quality flowing into the Great Barrier Reef and to add value all along the sugar supply chain.
Cane flower heads, North Queensland. © WWF-Aus / Kerry Trapnell

Sustainable finance

WWF works with big banks and other financial institutions that influence food production, notably through the Banking Environment Initiative (BEI). We're helping to develop lending and investment policies that support more sustainable production and innovation, while also safeguarding against harmful environmental and social impacts. Sometimes this involves valuing ‘natural capital’ (biodiversity, water, soil or carbon) in monetary terms, which can help quantify the risks and impacts associated with unsustainable production.

Why it matters

Good governance is fundamental to sustainable development. Natural resources such as land and water, timber and fish, are often managed as if only market values matter; environmental protection is secondary. Thankfully, a growing number of governments, companies and environmentally aware consumers know better. But while developed nations like Australia have in place environmental laws and regulations, our businesses are moving to adopt voluntary sustainability policies, and more shoppers are seeking responsible products and services, we need to be vigilant. Environmental laws need to be enforced, voluntary corporate action can be insincere and consumer behaviour doesn't always last. Such challenges are especially acute in developing countries where big natural resource decisions or funding is opaque and public participation constrained. In Australia and overseas WWF works to strengthen the governance of natural and financial capital. We want governments and the private sector, especially financial institutions, to be more transparent and inclusive in their decision-making. Only through broad representation and discussion can we make decisions in the best interests of people and the planet.

Building community engagement in reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, October 2012
© WWF-US / Julie Pudlowski

What you can do to help

Learn about Australian aid spending and advocate for more attention to sustainability criteria. Consider your own bank or pension provider and their sustainability policies. Do they have clear targets and timetables for improved environmental outcomes? Do they report regularly and publicly on their progress and shortfalls?