Partnerships between stakeholders are "essential" to improve the sustainability of agricultural supply chains, the Environmental Defense Fund has suggested.

Suzy Friedman, director for agricultural sustainability at the EDF, claimed that improving supply chains presented "such a broad range of challenges" that the food industry must work together with other stakeholders if its efforts are to succeed.

Speaking yesterday (3 October) at a pre-conference panel session ahead of the Sustainability Summit being hosted jointly by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute in Washington DC, Friedman alluded directly to joint initiatives such as Field to Market, EDF's partnerships with McDonalds and Wal-Mart and to an initiative with Wegman's on sustainable seafood.

"For agricultural sustainability, partnership is going to be really key. If we're going to accomplish that goal of feeding the world without doing the harm that could be done to the resources needed to sustain that production, we're going to need to have a lot of collective effort and a lot of very open and transparent work," she emphasised.

Maya Albanese, associate for sustainable agriculture at Rainforest Alliance, concurred that cross-stakeholder partnerships are becoming increasingly central to the development of the sustainability agenda. Albanese said that the "NGO landscape is changing" with more NGOs now looking to collaborate with companies.

In bringing together environmental sustainability specialists from major manufacturers and retailers and representatives from other stakeholder groups such as NGOs and government, the Sustainability Summit, which got underway this morning, itself reflects the growing importance of inter-stakeholder collaboration.

During the event, delegates will discuss key issues facing the food sector, such as global food security, stakeholder engagement, waste, water stewardship and sustainable agriculture.

Today's agenda includes welcoming speeches from David Fikes, director for community and consumer affairs and social responsibility at FMI, and Pamela Bailey, CEO of the GMA.

Highlights also include a presentation by Dr Sally Uren, deputy CEO of sustainability think-tank Forum for the Future, who will also explore how consumer attitudes to sustainability are likely to change between now and 2020, and a panel discussion on global food security.

Check just-food for news and insight from the event.