21 Apr 2021 — The Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform has unveiled its upgraded Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA) toolset, version FSA 3.0. 

Unilever, Nordzucker, Cargill, PepsiCo, Nomad Foods and Innocent Drinks are among 40 key industry players that have collaborated on designing and trialing this eco-centered harvest assessment scheme. 

Overall, the system was designed to help agri-food stakeholders monitor their broad supply chains for sustainability such as climate change, biodiversity decline and labor rights.

“The premise [behind this upgrade] is to shift the focus away from compliance and instead toward continuous improvement of on-farm sustainable practices,” Sven Sielhorst, systems director of SAI Platform, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

“We wanted to include the latest scientific insights and respond to evolving industry expectations. With so many years of user feedback, we wanted to improve the user experience particularly for farmers.”

New toolset functionalities
The FSA toolset comprises functionalities that are relevant to all levels of the supply chain. It is used by small farm groups and large-scale food manufacturers, providing direction to supply chain players regardless of location, crop or farm type.

Click to EnlargeThe FSA is used by small farm groups and large scale food manufacturers, providing direction to supply chain players regardless of location, crop or farm type.

As part of the toolset, a new online FSA Priority Screening Tool helps farm groups gain valuable insights into relevant sustainability challenges such as climate impacts and fair labor.

“The Priority Screening Tool applies to a group of farms,” says Sielhorst. “Typically, companies buying from farmers will fill out this online tool in roughly an hour. The tool contains questions regarding farm characteristics which help companies familiarize themselves with the group.”

“These questions refer to environmental and social topics with the aim of increasing awareness and understanding of farming conditions as well as farmer and customer priorities. The tool produces a ranking of priorities which helps the group when considering their improvement plan.”

Farm groups are also offered extra guidance in developing, implementing and monitoring a performance improvement plan with a new Continuous Improvement Module. 

In addition, FSA 3.0 incorporates existing external impact measurement tools identified through a new Outcome Measurement Handbook.

New self-assessment questionnaire
The new version of the toolset also includes the Self-Assessment Questionnaire that reflects the latest industry consensus on sustainable farming. 

“The self-assessment gives insight into the practices that farmers apply,” Sielhorst explains. “Together with the outcome of the priority screening tool, this will give you a firm basis to put together a plan to improve the sustainability performance of the group.”

The FSA provides an opportunity to independently verify farm performance at Bronze, Silver or Gold level. “More and more companies are using these to define their sustainable sourcing requirements,” says Sielhorst.

For businesses buying from third party suppliers, the toolset can be used to define sustainable sourcing requirements and engage them in an effective manner,” he notes.

“Suppliers can use the FSA directly or choose one of over 100 sustainability schemes that are benchmarked against the FSA.”

“The FSA is flexible and can be tailor-made to local conditions which allow businesses to be consistent in sustainable sourcing across multiple supply chains on a global scale,” he maintains.

Almost three years in R&D
FSA 3.0 is the result of two and a half years of “intense engagement” with SAI Platform member companies and other companies that use the FSA, notes Sielhorst.

“There were three tiers whereby members contributed,” he explains. “The first tier was formed by members that participated in the design phase. These members came together regularly, via Zoom, to design and develop the toolset.”

Click to EnlargeAs part of the toolset, a new online FSA Priority Screening Tool helps farm groups rank their priority sustainability challenges such as climate impacts and fair labor.The second tier was in charge of gathering feedback through online consultations or focus groups with industry players, Sielhorst details.

“Finally, in the third tier, members contributed through reality checking and road testing,” he continues. “It was these companies that actively used the tools with farmers around the world to make sure that they were reliable and effective for farmers to use across the supply chain.”

“This checking and staying close to reality also helped us to drive industry consensus. The importance of seeing the tools in action first-hand created a shared understanding.”

Backed by agri-food heavyweights
Barry Callebaut and Unilever were among the first companies to leverage SAI’s harmonized approach in streamlining their sustainability assessments.

Both have worked with US farmers to pilot the SAI’s Equivalency Module, a 15-question module that helps farmers to reach FSA Bronze level through an outcomes-based, metrics-driven approach.

Jan Kees Vis, global director of sustainable sourcing at Unilever, remarks: “The FSA is used by many SAI Platform members. FSA 3.0 is strengthened with a priority screening tool, which gives focus, and an outcome measurement module to provide us with much needed data.”

“Companies are increasingly turning to on-the-ground agricultural solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reverse biodiversity decline and improve worker well-being,” adds Robert Erhard, president of SAI Platform and agricultural raw materials specialist for Nestlé.

“The Farm Sustainability Assessment 3.0 offers our members and their suppliers a way to do this by using a solid yet flexible approach to assessing farm sustainability performance worldwide,” he continues.

“This new version empowers everyone in the agricultural value chain even more to work together on raising the sustainable agriculture bar.”

The existing version of the FSA (2.1) will be phased out over the next 18 months. 

During this period, sustainability schemes will maintain their benchmarked status and Verification Bodies can still register FSA Letters of Attestation against the old version of the FSA. 

By Benjamin Ferrer

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