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Sustainability initiative tackles cocoa and coffee losses

By Rod Addy , 27-Aug-2012
Last updated on 27-Aug-2012 at 17:19 GMT

Nestlé says it has been able to improve cocoa yields in some cases by 200%
Nestlé says it has been able to improve cocoa yields in some cases by 200%

The Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform is making headway in preventing cocoa and coffee crop losses, improving supply and yields for manufacturers.

That’s according to Hans Johr, corporate head of agriculture at Nestlé and honorary president of SAI, who also worked for 20 years as a farmer in Brazil in his early career.  Speaking to FoodNavigator, Johr said the initiative aimed to educate farmers across the world to improve their farming and storage methods in order to safeguard and improve harvests.

Poor understanding of agronomy and storage techniques was responsible for massive crop losses globally, said Johr, and addressing this could easily ensure the world was fed, despite predicted population increases.

“You can even put land aside and still have enough to feed the world. The big waste in the developed world is mainly finished product. In developing countries it’s mainly upstream. You can lose as much as 30-40% of crops globally and at the moment you are losing at least half the entire cocoa crop.”

Sustainable initiatives applied by Nestlé alone to farms globally had significantly improved yields of cocoa and coffee, he said. “In certain areas we have proven an improvement in yields of up to 200%. And these figures have been independently verified.”

Nestlé, Unilever and Danone, the founding members of SAI, have formed a working group on coffee in partnership with a fourth member, Germany’s Neumann Kaffee Gruppe.

“We have been able to set the very first baseline for sustainable coffee growing,” said Johr. This was an industry-led initiative that had not been driven by non-governmental organisations, he added.

Together with a similar working group for cocoa, SAI members were currently distributing new plants “to rejuvenate coffee and cocoa plantations”. In many cases, farmers were working with overaged crops that were more susceptible to climate effects such as heat, explained Johr. Introducing fresh plants would boost harvests. It was the first time such an initiative had been attempted, he said.

In addition, as part of the SAI Platform work, Nestlé was cooperating with others to comprehend the mechanisms behind crop losses, said Johr. “We are trying to understand losses at farm level as well as in the supply chain. There is a tremendous loss of food at farm level. We are now looking at trials to eradicate these losses.”

Such work could easily ensure enough food was produced to feed the world’s population, even if it met predictions to grow to 9bn by 2050, he said. “We can’t continue to run farms by losing soil and ruining biodiversity.”

Johr said Nestlé alone was introducing training programmes to 700,000 farmers globally and had already trained 200,000 in good agricultural practice, from Mexico and Africa to Asia and Australia.

SAI Platform was established in May 2002 and has now grown its membership to more than 40 active corporate members. Unilever and Danone helped set it up alongside Nestlé.

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