Tate & Lyle PLC has entered into the next phase of its sustainability program for stevia, a plant-derived and in-demand low-calorie sweetener, by enrolling new farmers in China.

The program will allow participating farmers to implement best practices identified in its 2019 stevia life-cycle analysis and verified in its 2021 on-farm pilot.

Tate & Lyle partnered with environmental charity Earthwatch Europe, working with Nanjing Agricultural University in East China, to develop the program, which aims to ensure that the stevia industry grows sustainably

The expanded program 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 pilot aimed to reduce the impacts of fertilizer use and help farmers to understand soil health through regular, straightforward testing.

In its first full year, the pilot program 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 optimized fertilizer 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 minimize their environmental footprint. With the stevia agricultural sector at a relatively early stage in its adoption of more sustainable practices, this science-led program 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 in pursuing 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. Growers signing the commitment will be helped to understand better their environmental impact through sampling, assessments and participation in workshops with a clear goal of reducing their environmental impact and improving productivity and profitability by implementing the recommendations from the analysis conducted.

“Supporting sustainable agriculture is front and center 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," said Nick Hampton, chief executive of Tate & Lyle. "Our stevia program in China epitomizes 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.”

“This partnership, through its hands on approach to trialing change and sharing knowledge, has engaged farmers, encouraging them to improve the sustainability of their growing practices," added Maria Pontes, director of programs and partnerships at Earthwatch Europe. "We recognize 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 program.”

“It’s very important to involve farmers in the demonstration of stevia slow-release fertilizer application as it helps them to better understand and believe in the practical technology and its value, improving their trust that this approach will benefit them, which in turn will move the sustainability program forward," said Professor Luo, project lead from Nanjing Agricultural University in East China. "Participating farmers say that the optimized application of slow-release fertilizer technology, using this fertilizer once a whole growing season instead of multiple applications of different fertilizers, as they were previously, is making stevia farming easier. 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 program 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."