9 May 2013
Consumer goods firm Unilever South Africa has formed a sunflower farming partnership as part of its sustainable living plan and has successfully developed hybrid seeds, which are expected to reduce the country’s dependence on sunflower oil imports.
“This project is currently under way in Limpopo province where almost 30 000 hectares of land is under sunflower crops and expected to yield 20% of Unilever’s oil requirements in South Africa,” Unilever said in a statement last week.
The partnership involves a private group of farmers, verification company Control Unit and the Central Edible Oils Company, which has links to farmers, co-operatives and silo owners.
The group of partners follow Unilever’s Sustainable Agriculture Code, which is a framework to maintain soil fertility, enhance water fertility, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect biodiversity and improve the livelihoods of farmers and workers.
It falls under the firm’s sustainable living plan, established in 2010 to drive the company’s growth while reducing its environmental footprint.
It set a target of 100% sustainably sourced materials by 2020.
Unilever also announced it is now sourcing 36% of its agricultural raw materials sustainably, exceeding the 30% target set when the sustainable living plan was launched in 2010.
“The initial assessments showed varying gaps against Unilever’s Sustainable Agriculture Code, but through dedicated work between the Centrol Edible Oils Company and the farmers, every participant now meets or exceeds the sustainability criteria,” said Unilever South Africa’s chairperson, Marijn van Tiggelen.
In addition to sunflower oil, palm oil was included in the firm’s plan for sustainable sourcing and Green Palm certificates were introduced in 2012.
These certificates allow certified growers from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil to convert their oil into certificates on the green palm market where manufacturers place offers and offset their physical oil with the equivalent amount of certificates.
“The producer receives the full value of each certificate, enabling him to reinvest the premium and tackle the environmental and social issues created via palm oil production,” Van Tiggelen said.
Further efforts to improve sustainability that have been identified as priority efforts by the company are reducing water use and enhancing development through job creation.
“These are noble ambitions and we are not immune to their challenges, but they are underpinned by time-bound targets,” Van Tiggelen said. “While the company has made steady progress towards our goal in the second year, there remains much to do.”