Sustainable hazelnuts – the next step towards making sustainability the norm

UTZ Hazelnut iconBlog by Hande Büyüklimanli, Program Manager for Hazelnuts. 

At UTZ Certified, our mission is to make sustainable farming the norm. Many UTZ members in the confectionary industry have already made huge commitments to sourcing sustainable cocoa, and they are looking for what else they can do.

That’s why, in early 2014, we began working with four founding partners Migros/Delica AG, Natra, REWE Group, and Jumbo Supermarket to develop a program for sustainable hazelnuts.

It was natural to begin in Turkey, which is the origin of around 75% of the world’s hazelnuts. More than 1,000 farmers from the Black Sea region took part in our pilot project in 2014. One of the main goals was to assess the current situation in the hazelnut sector in Turkey. Therefore we carried out a baseline study to identify the biggest challenges and find out how our program could have an impact. As with all UTZ programs, the standards for sustainable hazelnuts cover good agricultural practices, farm management, social requirements, and protection of the environment, but in the hazelnut sector there is a strong focus on social and economic issues – particularly working conditions.

We learnt a lot during our pilot year. We already knew that social and working conditions – child labor in particular – are among the main challenges in the sector, but the pilot allowed us to develop more in depth knowledge about the situation. Based on what we learnt we have developed a detailed strategy to be implemented and evaluated in 2015. What will be vital is addressing working conditions in training, and developing very close relationships with local government offices, NGOs and foundations. In order to tackle the root causes of issues like child labor, it will be important to seek input and commitment from the sector and all these stakeholders.

The baseline study also showed us that there is room for improvement in the productivity of hazelnut trees. Many trees are very old, so there needs to be some rejuvenation of the orchards. In addition, the timing and the method of pruning are important to ensure the trees bring the biggest possible yield. We will therefore ensure that this is a focal point in training materials and training sessions.

All of this research – as well as two rounds of public consultation – helped us come to the final draft of the Hazelnut Module of the Code of Conduct, which contains the requirements for hazelnut farmers that are applied alongside the Core Code for all products.

What’s next? There’s still a long way to go! This year, we’re thrilled that around 4,000 farmers from 11 different farmer groups will take part in the program. We’re stepping up the training in the field, to ensure these farmers are prepared and will really benefit from the UTZ requirements. We’re building our network with civil society and governmental organizations in Turkey to contribute to improving social conditions. We’ll continue monitoring and evaluating the program, to see how things change from the baseline study.

This year we set up our traceability system to trace the sustainably produced hazelnuts through the supply chain, and that will be put in action again for the 2015 harvest.

Also of vital importance is our focus on the market end of the supply chain, building demand for the sustainable hazelnuts that will come onto the market in late 2015 and the following years. After all, it’s only by connecting the two ends of the supply chain – by stimulating by supply and demand of sustainable hazelnuts – that we will really be able to make sustainable hazelnut farming the norm.

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