Sustainability Fruits and Vegetables Initiative (SIFAV) strives for 100% sustainability

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The Sustainability Fruits and Vegetables Initiative (SIFAV) claims that when it comes to preserving farmers’ ability to produce healthy vegetables in the long run, nothing short of 100% sustainability will do.

Jumbo, C1000, Ahold, ICA, Coop and Lidl are just a few big names that signed up to the SIFAV initiative, committing to source 100% sustainably by 2020. Last summer, the group announced to be on track with its goal of 30% sustainability in 2014. Next year’s goal is 50% sustainability.

“Sustainability is important, so that we can keep producing in the long term. This means the inclusion of smallholder farmers into the supply chain,” said Tony Bruggink, programme director of the IDH fruits & vegetables programme, at the International Supply Management Congress held last week.

Bruggink points out smallholder farmers seem to recognise they can and should play an important role in increasing sustainability in the supply chain, both by scaling up existing initiatives aimed at increasing sustainability and by developing new producer support projects. “Their commitment shows the importance of mainstreaming sustainability in the sector,” he said.

The bananas, pineapples and other healthy produce the retailers sell are sourced mainly in Africa and Latin America, to be sold throughout Europe. Why do so many large companies dealing in fruits and vegetables suddenly find sustainability important? According to Michiel van Zanten, sourcing director at Ahold, customers increasingly demand sustainability, as more and more people are aware of sustainability. “Many non-profit organisations are challenging us: so it has become part of our core business. It is balancing act to be innovative, have best quality and affordable prices. Sustainability is part of that package, and before we joined SIFAV we recognized this,” said Van Zanten.

So far in 2014, nine additional companies have joined, resulting in an increased number of participants in the covenant. Dutch traders and retailers in Europe annually import approximately 13.4m tonnes of fruits and vegetables from Central and South America, Africa and Asia, with a total value exceeding €10bn. The covenant parties would like to make a positive contribution towards increasing the sustainability of their sourcing of fresh fruits and vegetables, in relation to social-economic improvement and environmental aspects.

So why is this year’s goal of the covenant, 30%, not enough? Van Zanten said: “As a market leader, we need to set ourselves high goals. 30% is not enough, as we believe that sustainability is a ladder. You take it step by step, and it has many challenges that keep moving, so we need to keep fine-tuning our ambitions. We would like to strive for 100% sustainability; it is in our DNA.”