Tate & Lyle extends stevia venture through extending Chinese operations

Global ingredients and solutions group Tate & Lyle has moved to enhance is sustainability initiatives for stevia, through enrolling new farmers based in China, reports Neill Barston.

As Confectionery Production has previously covered, the plant-based sweetener has grown in popularity with consumers, with ‘next generation’ formulations notably improving taste profiles for many product ranges within sweets and snacks ranges.

According to the business, its latest venture will support participating farmers to implement best practices identified in its 2019 stevia life-cycle-analysis and verified in its 2021 on-farm pilot.

It will include enrolling new stevia farmers in Dongtai, Jiangsu Province, East China, and Linze, Gansu Province, West China, and will use data from pilot farms being extended across its network. There will also be a new voluntary stevia supplier sustainability commitment for participating farmers.

As the business noted, its 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 scheme aimed to reduce the impacts of fertiliser use and help farmers to understand soil health through regular, straightforward testing.

According to Tate & Lyle, after 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 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 findings from the 2019 study.

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 Assessment, and have been encouraged to sign Tate & Lyle’s Stevia Supplier Sustainability Commitment, a pledge to reduce the environmental impact of stevia farming.

Nick Hampton, Chief Executive of Tate & Lyle, welcomed the expansion of its ambitious scheme within China. He 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, also noted the potential for expanding the venture.

She added: “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.”

Furthermore, Professor Luo, project lead from Nanjing Agricultural University in East China noted that it was very important to involve farmers in the demonstration of stevia slow-release fertiliser application, as this helps them to better understand and believe in the practical technology and its value.

The professor said: “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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