We should all be eating more nuts, according to the EAT‑Lancet commission, an expert group on healthy, sustainable diets. Packed with protein, heart-friendly fats and vitamins, they are a popular snack choice, with many versatile ways of being incorporated into our diet. Yet, even the most discerning of us may never have considered where or how the nuts in a cereal bar or plant-based milk are grown.

A sustainable diet means choosing foods that are healthful for not only consumers, but the environment and the producers they come from. To meet EAT-Lancet’s recommendations for nut consumption, production would have to increase significantly over the next few years, which has to happen without sustainability challenges like poor labour standards on hazelnut farms, the irrigation requirements of almond production, poverty in rural cashew communities, and the overarching impact of climate change.

As the leading supplier of nuts, seeds and superfoods, with integrated processing and distribution capabilities, Olam Nuts, part of Olam Food Ingredients (OFI), is already driving transparency and action through our revolutionary insights platform, AtSource. So for customers wanting to buy sustainable cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts and chia seeds, among others, this translates into…

Unparalleled insight into supply chains

Over 32,000 farmers from 8 origins, covering nearly 115,000 hectares, across our sourcing networks and own estates, are visible on AtSource from our nut and superfood supply chains. This gives buyers worldwide – from wholesalers to confectionery brands – the ability to trace the journey of their product shipment all the way back to the orchard or farmer group it came from.

The data for this is collected and analysed by Olam’s field teams across our sourcing origins and own estates. Farm and community information including quantities of seeds and inputs, access to healthcare and education, and tree cover loss, combined with processing and transport information, add up to over 100 economic, social and environmental metrics for customers to choose from.

This real-life data opens a new window to companies beyond Olam in the supply chain, into where their nuts came from and how it made its way to them – such visibility is often lost along the journey as crops travel from rural villages and through the hands of many middlemen.

Sustainability metrics that matter

The customised model allows companies to choose the level of transparency they want to dig into, with three tiers to suit various levels of sustainability ambition – from risk assessment, to action plans.

The country-level information at Entry tier is particularly valuable for companies who may be just starting their sustainability journeys and want to manage reputational risk. If sourcing sesame from Nigeria for example, they can understand the magnitude of poverty or the country’s vulnerability to climate change.

The data gets more granular at the second tier, AtSource Plus, which covers the entire product journey from farmgate, through processing, up to the customer’s destination. So when a buyer from Italy logs on to the dashboard, it will show them that their hazelnuts from Turkey are sourced from a group of 252 farmers in the Duzce district of the Black Sea region, that 100% of have received coaching to improve agricultural practices with individual farm management plans, and all are covered by a Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation System (CLMRS).

The unique granularity and accuracy of AtSource’s data, specific to each customer’s supply chain, means companies can better report and take action on the sustainability issues that matter most to them and their consumers.

A traceable footprint from farm to factory

The Eco-calculator on AtSource reveals the total environmental footprint for products, broken down into carbon, water and land-use, at each stage of its journey - on the farm, in processing, and transport to the destination port. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s not this latter stage that’s responsible for most of the CO₂ emissions, but the on-farm activities. Organic quinoa grown in Cajamarca, Peru for example, and shipped to a company in New Zealand, generates 2.4 tonnes of CO₂ equivalent (per tonne) with agriculture contributing 87%.

So this is clearly where we need to focus most of our efforts relating to climate action. Training on climate-smart practices like incorporating organic matter to improve soil fertility and structure, diversifying farms with other crops like beans and oats to help sequester carbon, and organic pest management, to name a few, are aimed at reducing this on-farm footprint and the Eco-calculator will show us how effective these are over time.

Actionable insight for meaningful impact 

The process of gathering the data for AtSource, has uncovered a number of areas where we need to investigate further and focus our efforts to improve social or environmental conditions. By capturing ‘Diversity & Inclusion’ metrics on the number of female registered farmers in each farmer group, women attending Good Agricultural Practice training or holding a leadership position, we know where we need to target interventions to improve gender equality. In Ghana for instance we’re training women in cashew communities on beekeeping and in Côte d’Ivoire, we’ve partnered with the World Bank to help female cashew workers gain financial autonomy.

The health and nutrition metrics meanwhile prompted a survey to better understand the year-round food and nutrition needs of cashew households in our sourcing network. These insights are informing new strategies to support farmers under our Sustainable Cashew Growers Programme, such as crop diversification and nutrition education, while also enriching our longstanding efforts to address some of underlying determinants of malnutrition, like limited access to clean water.

Collaboration for landscape-level change

Being transparent about the good and the bad in our supply chains, encourages others to support Olam in developing and scaling effective interventions. The metrics on AtSource are accessible to our customers via a digital dashboard, which acts as window into where hotspots – like malnutrition, child labour and water stress - lie and equally, where progress is being made.

By connecting companies further down the supply chain to the source of their products, AtSource brings them in as a partner on the collective efforts to improve the impact of nut production on people and planet. It also gives them assurance that their cashews, hazelnuts, chia seeds or other products are responsibly sourced, fully traceable and sustainable. Meanwhile, for our sustainability partners like the International Labour Organisation, Xerces Society and GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH), the transparency offered through AtSource provides reassurance that their investment is making a difference where it matters.

And finally, a company’s role in creating this positive impact can be communicated to consumers who, with a heightened sense of wanting to ‘do good’ during COVID, will want to know that their purchase – whether a packet of nuts or protein bar – isn’t contributing to the climate crisis and offers an economically sound future for producers and their families.