Reducing the impact of agriculture on the environment, called ecological intensification, is most effective when it involves the entire agricultural value chain, rather than just the primary producers.
This was proven by the results achieved by South African macadamia processor Green Farms Nut Company, says macadamia marketer Green and Gold Nuts marketing manager Alex Whyte.
“The decision to use the whole nut in our processing facilities was not solely ecological. We based our decision on the need to be more productive and efficient and, as a result, provide the farmers who are our customers with the best possible price for their product.
“Our determination to eliminate wasteful production processes and drive additional revenue streams had powerful positive environmental consequences and contributes directly to the sustainability of our suppliers and, therefore, the industry as a whole,” he explains.
Applying the principles of reuse, reduce and recycle results in significant dividends for all stakeholders, he adds.
Although there is no consensus on a definition of ecological intensification of agriculture, the basic principles entail understanding how nature functions to exploit its resources without destroying it. The aim is to produce more by avoiding excessive use of pesticides, chemical fertilisers, water and fossil fuels which, research indicates, deplete natural resources and impair the ability of agro-ecosystems to sustain long-term production.
“This concept, therefore, focuses on using land, water biodiversity and nutrients efficiently, in ways that are regenerative to minimise negative impacts and enhance productivity.”
However, there is a need to take this approach “beyond the farm gate”, Whyte says.
The macadamia nut industry is inherently nearly carbon neutral, based on the planting and care of trees that accumulate and store significant amounts of carbon over the 25 to 30 years of their lives. Ecologically intensified management of the trees will increase the beneficial effects across the supply chain.
“The supply chain in general, and processors in particular, are key to bolstering these benefits and allow for positive effects to flow to all stakeholders,” he adds.
For example, the Green Farms Nut Company burns about 30% of the shells it cracks at its processing facilities as an energy source, reducing the company’s reliance on electricity. The heat generated is used to reduce the moisture content of the kernels from 20% to 2%. The ash is used as fertiliser.
Damaged kernels are pressed to produce an oil that is used in not only in the cosmetics industry as a base for skin products, but also for cooking. The remaining cake from the oil-pressing process is sold as nutrient-rich animal feed.
For each ton of shells cracked, about 700 kg are resold to farmers to use as mulch for their trees and as soil-erosion prevention on roads. The shells of the macadamia nuts that farmers deliver to Green Farms Nut Company factories are returned to them free of charge.
“Companies up and downstream of the farm can make a profound contribution to the regenerative use of natural resources and ensure the long-term prosperity of everyone in the value chain, including the consumer. Ecological intensification of agriculture, therefore, is a regenerative business proposition with significant positive impact,” Whyte concludes.