UTZ Certified Sets Ambitious Tea Sustainability Goal

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands.

Half of the world’s tea, coffee and cocoa production should be certified sustainable in the next decade, a goal UTZ Certified considers ambitious but realistic.

In the 10 years since its founding, the sustainability certifier has made significant inroads certifying coffee production by concentrating on origin rather than appealing to consumers to pay a Fairtrade-like premium. Growers find that sustainable practices increase crop quality and yield whilst lowering costs significantly. Growers receive a better price for a better product and manufacturers are sure to receive a good quality product meeting sustainable criteria set by industry and consumers, according to UTZ PR Manager Stephanie de Heer. 

“Sustainability is no longer in the niche it was before. It is becoming integrated in company policies,” she told Food Navigator. Criteria include traceability, soil management, fertilizer use, irrigation, harvesting, pest management, worker rights, health and safety and biodiversity.

Success in reaching these goals “is mainly industry-driven, as long as you can have a win-win situation.”

Approximately 10 percent of the global coffee production is certified by at least one of several programs. During the first six months of the year certified coffee topped 1.56 million 60 kg bags or 94 million kilos about 60 times more than tea. Additionally, 59.8 million kg of UTZ certified cocoa was sold during that period. UTZ has certified about 4- to 5-percent of global production. In tea the numbers are much smaller.

Sales of UTZ Certified tea reached 1.5 million kilos during the first six months of 2012 and while early-adopters include majors such as Sara Lee (Pickwick Tea®) and the leading Colombian tea supplier Agrícola Himalaya S.A launched UTZ Certified tea products. Te Hindu, Ahold, Carmien, Migros and Tan Huong also grow or market UTZ Certified tea.

Last year UTZ certified large tracts of South African Rooibos but few tea producers in India, Africa and China are certified.

“These figures reflect a steady growth in availability of UTZ Certified products. Even though pressure is increasing on consumer purchasing and the current economic slowdown has had an impact on coffee prices and demand, we are still seeing solid growth in sustainable beverages and commitment from partners,” according to de Heer.

This week UTZ celebrated its 10th anniversary with a seminar “Eye on the Future” an assembly that brought together different stakeholders to discuss UTZ and the future role and position of the program within certification.

“UTZ Certified aims for further expansion by scaling up, increasing industry commitment and above all building a solid network of farmers, civil societies, NGOs and other relevant players in the supply chain. By combining high-tech approached with the power of nature, UTZ intends to build further on more resilient agricultural practices, increased output, reduced footprints and improved livelihoods for farmers,” according to a release distributed after the seminar.

“While applauding the successes so far achieved by UTZ and its partners, renown specialists in the field of sustainability outlined the challenges ahead in this venture. Kamau Kuria from Coffee Management Systems and Korotoum Doumbia from CEMOI were clear in their view of the challenges faced by coffee and cocoa farms in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire: access to finance, enhanced capacity building and further outreach to smallholders are key to the improvement of their livelihoods,” reads the release.

Heather Mak, co-author of Signed, Sealed en Delivered, told seminar attendees that a certain level of harmonization of standards and labels across the sector could be helpful to increasingly meet farmer needs. Nicko Debenham, Director Development and Sustainability of Armajaro stressed the importance of traceability systems, focus on impact and strict adherence to requirements. Gunter Pauli, author of the Blue Economy made a strong plea to always make the impossible possible, for instance by increasing farmers’ income by enabling them to grow mushrooms on coffee waste. While stressing the vital importance of drinking water and top soil protection as part and parcel of certification standards, he underlined the important role UTZ must continue to play in meeting farmer needs,” according to the release.

In response UTZ Certified Director Han de Groot concluded that his priority remains the enhancement of farmer livelihoods and that UTZ will invest in further growth, both in volumes and impact, in order to make sustainable farming the norm.

Source: UTZ Certified, Food Navigator

Dan Bolton

About Dan Bolton

Dan Bolton edits STiR Tea & Coffee Industry International. He was formerly editor and publisher of World Tea News and former editor and publisher of Tea Magazine and former editor-in-chief of Specialty Coffee Retailer. He is a beverage retail consultant and frequent speaker at industry seminars and conferences. His work has appeared in many beverage publications. He was a newspaper reporter and editor for 20 years prior to his career in magazines. Dan is the founding editor of Natural Food magazine and has led six publishing ventures since 1995. He lives in Winnipeg, Canada.