Tate & Lyle has launched a new sustainability programme to enable stevia growers in China to lower their environmental impact and gain greater economic benefit by cultivating the no-calorie sweetener.
Developed with environmental charity, Earthwatch Europe, and being rolled out with support from Nanjing Agricultural University (NJAU), the programme provides training to farming families in Dongtai, East China, to modernise farming practices and achieve sustainability-related accreditation for their stevia.
In 2019, Tate & Lyle commissioned Earthwatch to undertake a study to assess the environmental impact of different approaches to stevia production in China, where most of the world's stevia is grown.
The study identified a significant opportunity to drive environmental improvements in stevia production and support the company's suppliers in Dongtai, one of the first areas in China where stevia was cultivated around 40 years ago and the main seedling supply areas in the country.
Learnings from this study have been incorporated into the new sustainable stevia programme, with key areas identified by Earthwatch.
Some learnings include replacing synthetic fertilisers and pesticides with more sustainable alternatives, taking a prevention and control approach for protection against pests, crop diseases, and weeds, switching plastic materials used for mulching with more sustainable options, and developing farming practices to help maintain soil health, keep carbon locked in, and improve on-farm composting.
Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Certification
Stevia experts from nearby NJAU are supporting growers in the programme through training, farm visits, and best practice sharing.
In a new pilot study, the NJAU team will also apply more sustainable fertiliser to an area of land and monitor its impact to help demonstrate and communicate the benefits of this intervention.
Stevia growers will also benefit from mentoring throughout the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) certification process.
Nick Hampton, chief executive of Tate & Lyle, said, "We are excited to announce our new programme with Earthwatch Europe and Nanjing Agricultural University, which will help farming families in China secure a more sustainable future while enabling our customers to offer consumers sustainably sourced, plant-based sweeteners.
"Through this initiative, we are living our purpose of Improving Lives for Generations by supporting healthy living, building thriving communities, and caring for our planet by improving stevia's environmental footprint."