In a bit to help stevia growers in China lower their environmental impact and gain greater economic benefit from production of the in-demand no calorie sweetener, stevia, Tate & Lyle has announced its new sustainability programme.

Developed with environmental charity, Earthwatch Europe (Earthwatch), and being rolled out with support from Nanjing Agricultural University (NJAU), the outreach programme provides farming families in Dongtai, East China with training to help them to modernise farming practices and achieve sustainability-related accreditation for their stevia.

In 2019, Tate & Lyle commissioned Earthwatch to carry out a study to assess the environmental impacts of different approaches to stevia production in China, where most of the world’s stevia is grown.

The study found that there is “significant opportunity” to drive environmental improvements and support the company’s suppliers in Dongtai, one of the first areas in China where stevia was cultivated about 40 years ago.

From this, learnings are being incorporated into the new sustainable stevia programme. Key areas identified by Earthwatch include:

  • Lowering environmental impact by changing usage of synthetic fertiliser and pesticides to more sustainable alternatives, and providing guidance on application timing, targeting and volumes.
  • Taking a comprehensive prevention and control approach to protect against pests, crop diseases and weeds, replacing plastic materials used for mulching with more sustainable alternatives.
  • Developing farming practices to help maintain soil health, keep carbon locked in and improve on-farm composting.

Stevia experts from nearby NJAU are supporting growers in the programme through training, farm visits and best practice sharing. In a new pilot study, the NJAU team will also apply more sustainable fertiliser to an area of land and monitor its impact.

In addition, stevia growers will also benefit from mentoring throughout the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) certification process.

Nick Hampton, Chief Executive of Tate & Lyle, said: “We are excited to announce our new programme with Earthwatch Europe and Nanjing Agricultural University, which will help farming families in China secure a more sustainable future while enabling our customers to offer consumers sustainably-sourced, plant-based sweeteners.

“Through this initiative we are living our purpose of Improving Lives for Generations by supporting healthy living, building thriving communities and caring for our planet by improving stevia’s environmental footprint.”