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.
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.
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.
SSI does not define sustainability by itself nor has it developed an own standard for spices and herbs. It has instead opted to use recognized international standards and auditing systems that are already applied in agriculture. Key is whether the available sustainability standards cover the critical sustainability issues the spices and herbs sector face, and whether these standards and their certification bodies are ready to audit spices and herbs production.
After first having successfully supported Rainforest Alliance to develop their standard for spices certification, SSI built a ‘SSI basket of standards’ to broaden the possibilities for certification and verification on sustainable spices. The standards in this basket are recognized by SSI members to cover the main issues and therefore considered sufficient to certify or verify sustainable production of spices.
This SSI ‘basket’ requires that standards respond to some basic rules: show full transparency, allow comparability against other standards and international references from retail or international bodies (e.g. GSCP and ILO references), and are appraised by the SSI Benchmarking Working group against the key issues in the spices sector. A benchmarking tool was built especially for SSI by the International Trade Centre in Switzerland and made available for SSI members. New standards can enter the basket, provided they respond to above rules.
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.
Substantially increase the availability of sustainably produced spices