Sustainable Spices Initiative

The Sustainable Spices Initiative aims to sustainably transform the mainstream spices sector, thereby securing future sourcing and boosting economic growth in producing countries.

The initiative, SSI, brings together leading multinational companies and NGOs. It is a sector-wide consortium, founded in 2012 by four prominent players in the Dutch spices market – Euroma, Intertaste, Verstegen and Unispices. IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative established the platform to include organizations such as McCormick, Unilever, Intersnack, Kerry, Olam, Kutas, Intersnack, Intertaste, Nedspice, ITC India, Jayanti, Griffith Foods and many more valuable partners. Together with civil society organizations, such as the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT), Icco-cooperation, SNV and others, these companies have made a commitment to sourcing their products sustainably and to making a positive impact on their value chains.

The spices sector

Millions of smallholders are involved in the production of spices, which are an important cash crop. These farmers often face poverty and food insecurity. Depending on the spice and country, the production of spices itself faces labor issues (women, migrant and/or child labor) and environmental issues, particularly excessive agrochemical use.

Poor agricultural practices, lack of adequate processing facilities and growers switching to high-value crops or jobs, have caused an increase in the number of concerns around spices production especially over long-term supply, food safety and traceability. Additionally, the sector also deals with sustainability issues such as uncontrolled pesticide use, poor wastewater management and indecent labor conditions.

While the need for sustainable spices and sustainability as a whole is clear, the demand in the market is only starting to grow. One of the supposed reasons being that food manufacturers have difficulty to promote sustainable spices as such to consumers is that they are an important ingredient but not the main substance in the end-products. Meanwhile the organization of the value chains for all different products and origins remains a challenge for the industry to meet this demand.  Nevertheless, interest in sustainable spices is growing and for many front-runners, sustainable sourcing has shown important, increasing companies credibility and position in the supply chain and markets.

Theory of change

By ensuring long-term demand of good quality and sustainable spices at a fair price, spice production will become more attractive for smallholder farmers. The farmer, by following sustainable practices, will significantly reduce the negative impacts on the environment.

This means that the sustainable production of spices becomes an important element in a diversified farmer livelihood strategy, strengthening smallholder households’ economic resilience. 


  1. Knowledge sharing and learning aimed at creating a common understanding of sustainability and exchanging best practices.
  2. Offering a comparison, benchmarking and therefore a choice of existing sustainability standards for the sector.
  3. Outreach and convening with strategic stakeholders to ensure demand for sustainable spices is created.
  4. Co-funding producer support projects, professionalizing farmers and stimulating the creation of sustainable supply.
  5. Building commitment through covenants with front-runners in the different categories to build demand and drive sector investment for sustainability in the supply chains.
  6. Creation of local platforms of international and local stakeholders to address critical local issues (e.g. agrochemical use in Vietnam and India)

Benchmarking Standards

One of the main goals of SSI is to facilitate the creation of a generic sustainability standard for the spice sector.

In order to achieve this, Rainforest Alliance has been inducted to help adapt the Sustainable Agriculture Standard to the production of the following spices: pepper, ginger, turmeric, chilies, vanilla, cloves and cassia.

Through local workshops with stakeholders in Indonesia, Vietnam, India and Madagascar, Rainforest Alliance has developed Local Interpretation Guidelines (LIGs) for these seven spices. The project on developing these LIGs is now complete and being implemented on the ground. Eventually, these guidelines will be extended to all 34 culinary spices recognized by the European Spice Association (ESA).


It is clear that in order to create mainstream market transformation in the spices sector, existing standards in the market must be benchmarked to level the playing field. Along with the International Trade Centre (ITC), the SSI has developed an ‘Equivalency Tool’ which provides information on standards and codes of conduct addressing hotspots in the supply chain.

The tool is based on ITC’s Standards Map which provides comprehensive, verified and transparent information on voluntary sustainability standards and other similar initiatives covering issues such as food quality and safety. The main objective of the Map is to strengthen the capacity of producers, exporters, policymakers and buyers, to participate in more sustainable production and trade. 

Local platforms

After recognizing the importance of building local capacity in sourcing hubs, two local platforms have been established; Vietnam and India. These platforms involve relevant stakeholders in the country to deal with specific sustainability challenges to the indigenous region.

In Vietnam, the platform has been successful in mobilizing the government and the sector to work towards sustainability in pepper and other spices. In India, the members have come together to form a working group to work towards a sustainable solution to irresponsible agrochemical use on the farms. 


As a result-oriented coalition of companies and civil society organizations, SSI looks to accelerate and up-scale sector-wide sustainability. If you are committed to sustainability and wish to learn and co-develop strategies and proof of concepts, you are welcome to join.



Sectors: Fresh & Ingredients, Spices

Jan Gilhuis

Senior Program Manager

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Substantially increase the availability of sustainably produced spices

Partners of the Sustainable Spices Initiative