Sustainable import of fruit and vegetables increases to 70%

The volumes of tropical fruit and vegetables, such as bananas, pineapples, green beans and avocados, that are sourced on the basis of meeting social and environmental conditions has risen significantly from 50 to 70% in one year. This is what has emerged from the 2017 annual monitoring of the Sustainability Initiative Fruit and Vegetables (SIFAV). For example, for consumers, it means on average two out of three mangoes.

SIFAV is the only European-based organization that has been established with the purpose of convening sustainability agendas within global fruit and vegetable value chains. Launched and developed by IDH, SIFAV has grown significantly from 13 Dutch partners at its inception in 2012 to a pan-European initiative representing over 40 partners. These include retailers, brands, traders and civil society organizations based in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. All partners have committed to the SIFAV goal of 100% sustainable procurement of fruit and vegetables from Africa, Asia and South America by 2020.

Under SIFAV, procurement is defined as sustainable when producers meet the requirements of one social and one environmental compliance standard, where applicable standards can be selected from the SIFAV Basket of Standards.

Tony Bruggink, Program Director at IDH, said: “By promoting transparency and comparability, SIFAV strives to avoid unnecessary duplication of audits and increased costs for farmers. It supports the alignment of existing efforts with international best practices through benchmarking.

The SIFAV Basket of Standards includes both standards that have consumer facing logos and those that don’t, and requires that social standards are benchmarked against the Global Social Compliance Program (GSCP), the benchmarking facility for social auditing practices developed by the Consumer Goods Forum.

In its establishment, the founders of SIFAV decided to challenge market requirements, particularly with regards to social aspects. In 2012, the verification of working conditions at farm level in fruit and vegetable value chains was far from the norm. Requiring close relationships with producers, this has led to a greater awareness of social conditions at production level and has enabled the development of plans to improve social conditions. Today, the verification of working conditions is much more widely practiced, as the SIFAV annual monitoring report shows. At 70% in aggregated terms, sustainable procurement under SIFAV accounts for more than 2 million tons of produce. While this is great progress, there is still a lot of work to do to close the remaining gap, and ensure 100% sustainable procurement by 2020.

The existing SIFAV platform also goes far beyond simply monitoring the sourcing practices of its partners; it serves to facilitate the exchange of ideas and learnings among partners, and stimulates the implementation of pilot projects at farm level. These projects pioneer new and more sustainable practices, with the aim of improving working conditions (for example, striving towards the payment of living wages), enabling the inclusion of smallholder farmers in the global supply chain (improving their productivity and market access), and reducing the environmental impact of these value chains through better agrochemical, water and soil management.

Leon Mol, SIFAV Chairman and Director Product Safety and Social Compliance at Ahold Delhaize, said: “Collaboration among existing and new SIFAV partners is crucial to reach our 2020 goal, as well as to identify the best framework for the organization beyond 2020. The state of the art concerning sustainability is continuously evolving and SIFAV also needs to evolve. Last year SIFAV started an internal brainstorming process and this year we will reach out also to external key stakeholders to ensure that SIFAV will be in the right position to drive sustainable procurement also beyond 2020.”


Since consumer demand for healthy food, like fresh fruit and vegetables, is growing and will continue to grow into the future, the pressure on these value chains will intensify. The increased adoption of better social and environmental practices is therefore key to ensuring a sustainable future for the sector.