Tate & Lyle expands its sustainable stevia programme with Earthwatch

Posted on 25 Aug 2022 by The Manufacturer

Tate & Lyle PLC has entered into the next phase of its sustainability programme for stevia, a plant-derived and in-demand low-calorie sweetener, by enrolling new farmers in China. The programme will support participating farmers to implement best practices identified in its 2019 stevia life-cycle-analysis and verified in its 2021 on-farm pilot.

A world leader in ingredient solutions for healthier food and beverages, Tate & Lyle partnered with environmental charity Earthwatch Europe (Earthwatch), working with Nanjing Agricultural University in East China, to develop the programme, which aims to ensure that the stevia industry grows sustainably.

The expanded programme follows an on-farm pilot undertaken in Dongtai in 2021 that focused on improving the environmental and social impacts of stevia production, based on the results of Tate & Lyle and Earthwatch’s life-cycle-analysis completed in 2019. The 2021 pilot aimed to reduce the impacts of fertiliser use and help farmers to understand soil health through regular, straightforward testing. In its first full year, the pilot programme saw promising reductions in all of the nine impact categories measured against the baseline, including a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and an improvement in metrics linked to local water quality1. The pilot also found that optimised fertiliser use can positively influence stevia productivity and steviol glycoside content, resulting in a greater proportion of the desirable sweet components used to make stevia ingredients, verifying findings from the 2019 study.

Stevia sugar alternative stock image - Shutterstock

Stevia is a plant-derived and in-demand low-calorie sweetener. Credit: Shutterstock

In 2022, an expanded cohort of farmers in Dongtai, Jiangsu Province, East China and additional stevia farmers in Linze, Gansu Province, West China will implement the agronomic practice changes piloted last year, and trial additional changes to further minimise their environmental footprint. With the stevia agricultural sector at a relatively early stage in its adoption of more sustainable practices, this science-led programme is helping to build the evidence base and demonstrate the positive environmental, social and economic impacts associated with these changes.

Participating growers will be supported to pursue sustainability-related verification for their stevia through the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform’s Farm Sustainability Assessment2 and have been encouraged to sign Tate & Lyle’s Stevia Supplier Sustainability Commitment3, a pledge to reduce the environmental impact of stevia farming. Growers signing the Commitment will be helped to understand better their environmental impact through sampling, assessments, and participation in workshops with a clear goal of reducing their environmental impact and improving productivity and profitability by implementing the recommendations from the analysis conducted.

Nick Hampton, Chief Executive of Tate & Lyle, said: “Supporting sustainable agriculture is front and centre of our plans to deliver on our commitment to be carbon net zero by 2050, to help our customers deliver on their carbon reduction commitments and to build a thriving farming community. Our stevia programme in China epitomises our purpose in action and is laying the groundwork for the sustainable development of the stevia industry. We are excited to share our lessons and experiences to strengthen sustainability in the stevia supply chain and help farmers to unlock economic benefits for their communities.”

Maria Pontes, Director of Programmes and Partnerships at Earthwatch Europe, commented: “This partnership, through its hands on approach to trialling change and sharing knowledge, has engaged farmers, encouraging them to improve the sustainability of their growing practices. We recognise the importance of supply chain resilience, so supporting growers and building a strong supplier network, while making a real change to the environment, is a priority. We really look forward to continuing to work with Tate & Lyle to develop this programme.”

Professor Luo, project lead from Nanjing Agricultural University in East China, said: “It’s very important to involve farmers in the demonstration of stevia slow-release fertiliser application as it helps them to better understand and believe in the practical technology and its value, improving their trust that this approach will benefit them, which in turn will move the sustainability programme forward. Participating farmers say that the optimised application of slow-release fertiliser technology, using this fertiliser once a whole growing season instead of multiple applications of different fertilisers, as they were previously, is making stevia farming easier.

“As we can see from the pilot results, this approach is benefiting the environment and stevia productivity too. Participating farmers hope that through Tate & Lyle’s programme they will be able to introduce other efficient farming solutions for stevia agricultural practices in different sections of seedling production, field management and harvesting, bringing more benefits to their farms.”

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