Putting Wildlife-Friendly Rice
Farming into Practice
By Nicholas Spencer, IBIS Rice CEO | April 22nd 2021
Our planet faces three urgent global crises – climate change, the loss of biodiversity, and zoonotic pandemics. According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, total tropical tree cover loss increased by three per cent annually from 2010 to. 2019, reaching 13.1 million hectares in 2019. With agriculture as the lead driver of deforestation, there is a clear urgency to rethink how we cultivate and consume so that we can preserve ecosystems that are indispensable for human health, livelihoods, and food security worldwide. On Earth Day, we share how IBIS Rice has implemented a Wildlife-Friendly Farming approach and what putting conservation at the core of a business means.
Applying a Wildlife-Friendly Farming Approach
A Wildlife-Friendly farming approach involves the integration of conservation measures into farming practices. At IBIS Rice, we work with remote farming communities in the last expanse of dry tropical forest in South East Asia and home to the critically endangered Giant Ibis – the Wildlife Sanctuaries of northern Cambodia. These communities commit to farming organically whilst following zero deforestation, zero poaching and zero-logging agreements. Through robust and comprehensive monitoring and certification processes (involving farmers, community groups, agronomists, conservationists, biologists, and international auditors), we can ensure strict compliance with our conservation and organic standards. In return, we purchase paddy directly from our farmers’ households at up to 70% above market price.
As well as protecting the environment around the farms, IBIS Rice farmers are also investing in soil health and fertility by introducing green-manure crops after rice that build soil structure and grow into the dry season. Small wildlife-friendly ponds are being dug near these forest farms to provide supplementary water in the ever more unpredictable monsoon season and as a vital resource for wildlife in the height of the dry season. All aspects of our business is built around a partnership between us, our partner communities, our consumers and the wildlife sanctuaries we set out to protect.
Building Net-Positive Outcomes
Putting conservation at the core of our business has shown positive outcomes for farmers, forests, and wildlife. By proving the profitability of wildlife-friendly farming, we have seen improvement in the economic vitality of remote communities with a significant reduction in poaching and deforestation. A recent impact evaluation of our program looking at the past ten years found that households participating in our program are significantly better-off whilst being far less likely to clear forest than farmers outside of the program. This change has reduced deforestation by 75% in the areas where they live and cultivate. Building on this success IBIS Rice is recruiting more farmers every year, expanding to new wildlife sanctuaries and starting to incorporate new crops that are currently a threat to forests but could brought into our model.
Connecting Consumers to the Forest Frontier
IBIS Rice targets communities within and around unique and disappearing habitats – communities living amongst species on the brink of extinction. In these critical places, the most robust conservation commitments with a focus on the highest quality products create the most value for small-scale farmers and the forest around them. Our business has shown that incredible products with unique stories can be created from what used to be a conflict between low-value agriculture, poverty and forest conservation.
Though IBIS Rice is price-comparable to other organic brands, it is indeed a premium product and not necessarily accessible to all. However, this does not mean its impact is not shared across consumers. By bringing the most environmentally conscious consumers with purchasing power to these forest frontiers, we are focusing traceability and economic benefits on where the impact is highest. In this way, our impact is benefitting supply chains that are further from the deforestation frontier and thus benefiting wider consumers. As we face the dual crisis of climate change and biodiversity loss, sustainable agriculture is not achievable if we are still losing our most intact and precious ecosystems to agricultural expansion.
This net-positive model, we believe, can be replicated with other products for other forests. The last year has brought the importance of healthy forests and the risk of deforestation leading to new zoonotic diseases to everyone’s attention. We see a younger generation mobilizing around these issues that threaten their futures more than any that has gone before them. This, we believe, presents a rapidly growing opportunity to connect passionate consumers to empowered communities to save our most precious wild places that are vital to all our futures.