Blog Leading Colombian retailer investing in sustainable livestock

By: Sara Valencia, consultora Programa de Forrajes Tropicales

Grupo Éxito has developed a sustainable livestock model with its suppliers in Colombia aimed at mitigating the environmental impact in beef production. An interview with its executives reveals how this model operates.

With consumers increasingly concerned about climate change, environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, and animal welfare, concerted efforts have been made to develop and ensure sustainability in livestock systems. Sustainable livestock is understood as systems and practices that minimize the impact of activities on the social and environmental environment while promoting efficiency and economic profitability.

Grupo Éxito, one of the largest conglomerates in the retail sector in Colombia, has developed, with the support of various organizations, a sustainable livestock model seeking to protect biodiversity and mitigate environmental impact in meat production. An interview with Andrea Ocampo, sustainability analyst, and Nicolás Sierra, fresh products manager of Grupo Éxito, reveals how this model works and the role that allied organizations play in scaling sustainable livestock in Colombia and beyond.

What is the story behind this initiative?

Grupo Éxito is the first retailer in the country to implement a sustainable livestock model aiming to raise awareness among customers and collaborate with live cattle suppliers to conserve ecosystems, beef quality, and animal welfare. Since 2016, we began seeking a certification process for suppliers and found certification in livestock by Rainforest Alliance. However, the conditions under which this certification took place were disconnected from the needs within Colombian livestock. Subsequently, Rainforest Alliance discontinued the program, certifying only two farms in the country under those standards.

One of the reasons we developed this model is because we have always stated that part of our purpose is to nurture Colombia with opportunities. In that sense, livestock plays a fundamental role. We wanted to provide our customers with arguments defending livestock, showing another aspect of this activity. We want our customers to feel good and confident when they purchase meat in our stores.

That's why, in 2018, Grupo Éxito began working with Corporación GANSO, supported by the Alliance Bioversity & CIAT and Climate Focus, to develop our own sustainable livestock model, ensuring supply chain protection, access to custody data, and other information guaranteeing that those involved in the supply chain conduct processes appropriately. This initiative has not only consolidated us as the first retailer with satellite monitoring at the farm level in the supply chain but has also enabled us to implement deforestation indicators and biodiversity management in the supply chain.

What does Grupo Éxito's sustainable livestock model entail?

The model consists of two levels. The first involves all suppliers meeting the company's due diligence requirements to become a supplier. Here, criteria for conserving ecosystems, meat quality, and animal welfare are worked on. Part of this process involves satellite monitoring of deforestation by GANSO for 100% of Grupo Éxito's live cattle suppliers. This process requires premises to meet deforestation criteria set in the Zero Deforestation Agreements of the beef value chain, signed in 2019, and compliance with the agricultural frontier. Monitoring of Grupo Éxito's supply network by GANSO began in 2019 with 30 premises in two departments of the country, totaling 15,527 ha, of which 28% were tree-covered. Currently, 130,403 ha distributed across 18 departments are monitored. As of 2023, 30% of the monitored area is tree-covered (approximately 40,000 ha), equivalent to 80,000 soccer fields. According to the data obtained, across all monitored premises, there has been a gain in tree cover between 2021 and 2020 of 4,482 ha.

In the second level of Grupo Éxito's sustainable livestock model, certain criteria considered as the highest desired are addressed, covering environmental, animal welfare, and meat quality, social, and management issues. This level is executed through the GANSO endorsement. To date, 30,723 ha of suppliers in five departments of the country have been endorsed. The GANSO endorsement serves as an assessment tool to rate the management of livestock farms in terms of sustainability based on principles and practices adapted to the Colombian context. The pillars of the endorsement relate to environmental, social, animal welfare, business management, and meat quality aspects, aligning with the goals and principles of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB).

Beef products from endorsed livestock premises are currently marketed in 191 Grupo Éxito stores across 34 cities in the country, bearing a distinguishing seal. There is significant interest from more suppliers in obtaining GANSO endorsement.

What are the main achievements attained with the sustainable livestock model?

Raising awareness among ranchers. Many of them now recognize the importance of adopting livestock practices in line with these standards and current needs. Many do so not solely due to Grupo Éxito's requirements but out of their initiative. For Grupo Éxito, having 100% of its supply chain monitored has been gratifying, albeit a gradual process. Deforestation monitoring is now standardized and a requirement for those wishing to become new suppliers. This model has also enabled Grupo Éxito to establish a more formal and solid relationship with ranchers. Moreover, it allows us to speak to our customers with data and arguments demonstrating that livestock practices can coexist with biodiversity.

What challenges does this Sustainable Livestock model face?

Deforestation linked to the livestock sector remains a risk, compounded by the lack of a comprehensive traceability system in the country. However, as a company, we aim to influence making sustainability in livestock the norm and a requirement nationwide, urging other companies to join such initiatives. Communicating with customers is also a challenge, although they show increasing interest in these topics. For us, it is challenging to reach customers in a way that connects them with these stories and leads to purchase decisions based on sustainability attributes.

What has been GANSO's contribution to the sustainable livestock model?

Without GANSO, we would not have made as much progress with this model. They have helped materialize the dreams we had regarding the livestock process. It was a demanding process, and GANSO has enabled us to transition from conceptualization to reality. The relationship with GANSO has been akin to a ‘marriage’ where there has been a lot of feedback, which has been incredibly positive, providing us with all the technical expertise we needed, grounded in the reality of livestock. We have grown together and faced numerous challenges that have led us to reflect and act.

How could GANSO contribute to strengthening the sustainable livestock model and ensuring its continuity?

For Grupo Éxito, it is important that different initiatives and organizations continue promoting the implementation of better practices in the country's livestock systems, encouraging other chain actors to replicate such initiatives. It is also important and adds value to delve into emissions and greenhouse gas capture from the livestock sector, as this is a topic that still needs thorough work with producers.
Initiatives such as the GANSO endorsement and deforestation monitoring in meat supply networks contribute to the objectives set out in the CGIAR Initiative on Livestock and Climate. It allows for evaluating and monitoring sustainable practices, conserving ecosystems, measuring the environmental impact of livestock farms in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, and changes in tree cover. The monitoring of tree cover and sustainable practices supports and strengthens pastoral systems, enhancing producers' resilience and contributing to national environmental goals.

Hacienda Los Bongos, Córdoba, Agropecuaria Tabaida SAS.

As part of the activities of GANSO, in December 2023 An Innovation and Scaling Workshop of the GANSO Endorsement was held in Bogotá, Colombia focused on the beef and dairy sectors of the country: