We have recently signed up to the first Sustainable Coconut Charter, an industry initiative to improve smallholder farmer incomes and livelihoods, enhance supply chain traceability, prevent deforestation and mitigate the climate crisis.
The charter will bring together industry leaders to develop programmes that address the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of smallholder farmers. The aim is to empower people directly involved and impacted by coconut farming, so they can play a positive role in the sustainable development of their region.
With support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Green Invest Asia and private sector leaders, the charter is a pre-competitive industry collaboration that defines sustainability and outlines focus areas and principles, as well as programme goals and outcomes.
Pre-competitive collaboration is when competing companies come together to develop a solution for a common problem, from which none gain a competitive advantage.
Such programmes are essential to ensure that smallholder farmer incomes and subsequently their livelihoods are improved – through better access to market, finance and technology, as well as increased capacity and productivity – in a way that protects and regenerates the environment.
It also responds to a desire within the industry – and among consumers – for traceability and transparency. In other words, knowing exactly where the product originates from.
As Martin Huxtable, our Director of Sustainable Sourcing, says: “With the demand for coconut-based ingredients increasing, it’s imperative the industry finds ways to meet that demand sustainably. The creation of the Coconut Charter is a timely and important step in the right direction.”
A multi-faceted and co-ordinated approach
Coconut is a highly versatile fruit and its derivatives – especially coconut oil – are sought-after ingredients for food, drink and personal care products.
But while sustainable practices are being adopted in parts of the industry, it’s early stages and they are largely fragmented. Until now, there have been no consistent guidelines to shape and ensure sustainability across global coconut supply chains.
For instance, the output of many plantations is under threat because of ageing trees. Unless these are replaced with new, healthy seedlings and modern planting methods are used more widely, it is estimated that tree productivity in Asia – where most coconuts are grown – will decline by more than 80% by 2027.
What’s more, smallholders, who grow around 95% of the total global harvest, often lack market, finance and technical know-how. The charter aims to improve access to this kind of information and support. This, in turn, will allow them to adopt more sustainable agricultural practices and replace ageing – less productive – plantations.
Building on our existing sustainability initiatives
Signing up to this charter will complement our existing coconut sustainability efforts. These include a tree rejuvenation initiative in Indonesia, a programme that trains farmers on good agriculture practices and a pilot project on climate change resilient agriculture. Through our Bango soy sauce brand, we also run a youth farmer programme to support the next generation of smallholders.
“Unilever is committed to a more sustainable future for the coconut industry,” says Martin. “It’s critical for our business. But more importantly, for the millions of people who rely on it for their livelihoods and for the health of our planet.”