Ingredients maker Tate & Lyle has expanded its sustainability programme for stevia, a plant-derived low-calorie sweetener, by enrolling new farmers in China.
The programme, in partnership with Earthwatch, will support participating farmers to implement best practices identified in its 2019 stevia life-cycle-analysis and verified in its 2021 on-farm pilot.
Tate & Lyle Stevia Production Programme
Tate & Lyle has partnered with environmental charity Earthwatch Europe, and is working with Nanjing Agricultural University in East China, to develop the programme, which aims to ensure that the stevia industry grows sustainably.
Commenting on the programme, 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."
The expanded programme comes after an on-farm pilot undertaken in Dongtai in 2021 that focused on improving the environmental and social impact of stevia production, based on the results of a life-cycle-analysis completed in 2019.
The pilot aimed to reduce the impact of fertiliser use and help farmers to understand soil health through regular testing.
Impact And Findings
In its first full year, the programme saw 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 quality.
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 the findings from the 2019 study.
In 2022, a larger group of farmers in Dongtai, Jiangsu Province, East China and additional stevia farmers in Linze, Gansu Province, West China will utilise these changes and trial additional changes to further minimise their environmental footprint.
With the stevia agricultural sector still in a nascent stage in its adoption of more sustainable practices, the programme is helping to build the evidence base and demonstrate the environmental, social, and economic impacts associated with these changes.
'Hands On Approach'
Maria Pontes, director of programmes and partnerships at Earthwatch Europe, said, "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, added, "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."