Industry Formalizes Sustainable Coconut Charter to Collaborate on Climate Actions
December 7, 2022 (BANGKOK) – Two years after seven multinational companies launched the Sustainable Coconut Charter, more than 100 people working along the coconut value chain gathered on November 25 in the capital of the Philippines – one of the world’s top two coconut producers – to plan next steps to formalize the charter into a platform, identify areas of climate collaboration, and review progress made under the charter thus far. The event, “Advancing Resilient and Sustainable Coconut Supply in Southeast Asia,” was the seventh roundtable since 2019, when Barry Callebaut and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Green Invest Asia co-launched the first roundtable in Kuala Lumpur.
“More than a roundtable, your efforts, energy and enthusiasm to transform years of presentations and planning into a sustainability charter is nothing short of a movement,” said Brad Arsenault, Resilient Ecosystems Team Lead for the USAID Regional Development Mission for Asia. “There is tremendous power in this room to shift an entire market to greater sustainability, benefiting producers and their communities that struggle for survival on the margins.” Smallholder producers representing different demonstration farms under the Coconut Alliance, a public-private partnership with GIZ in the southern island of Mindanao in the Philippines, described how intercropping – planting multiple crops in the same field to diversity income – is a safety net when the price of coconut is low or volatile. “I don’t mind the income of the coconut. It’s [coconut is] a savings for me, I don’t mind it because I have other sources of income from the fruits,” said Victoria Motril, owner of a six-hectare farm.
Coconuts plantations make up 27 percent of agricultural land in the Philippines, and more than 80 percent of farms – most of which are owned by smallholders – only plant one crop, leaving producers vulnerable to price and climate shocks. As part of its Climate Change Strategy, USAID is mobilizing investment in transnational supply chains like coconut to change production practices that have a direct impact on communities whose sustenance and survival depends on land used to source agriculture and forestry commodities.
BSR, a sustainable business network and consultancy, presented its plans to assume the Secretariat role of the charter on January 1 from USAID Green Invest Asia, which has managed, facilitated and convened participants of the charter since 2019. “We want to …get the energy of all these different players [charter signatories and roundtable participants who consulted on the charter’s launch] and continue to increase and expand this concentric circle to really have impact projects,” said Nicolas Ronderos, BSR’s Manager of Collaborations. “We’ve heard loud and clear from many of you already that the real intent, the real interest here is to be transformative on the ground. And that is where we want to go.”
As part of the transition in management, BSR has consulted with a steering committee of companies active in the coconut sector (Barry Callebaut, Unilever, AAK, Ferrero, and Nestlé) and additional charter signatories to lay out a preliminary vision and mandate for the platform. Greg Bardies will lead the new organization. The industry-led initiative focused on coconut sustainability aims to catalyze responsible coconut production and market transformation at scale by establishing industry-wide best practices and impact programs.
Participants at the most recent roundtable in Manila identified a number of priorities for the platform to tackle, linked to traceability, livelihoods, regeneration, smallholder access to capital, sourcing, climate change and pricing. Sitting across from one another – the first time in more than two years – they wrestled with challenges facing the industry. How to achieve economies of scale while changing the underlying dynamics of coconut production? How to produce high-quality copra, while getting the balance of environmental, social and governance issues? How to change coconut producers’ mindsets? How to access quality cultivars? Slowly, they emerged from breakout rooms with ideas for collaboration under the platform, including: the establishment of coconut model farms, stronger public-private sector partnerships, and a pilot Tier 1 level traceability exercise in cooperation with a partner who creates a digital system for traceability and transparency across the value chain.
Speaking earlier in the event, Ronderos from BSR said “These different [impact] initiatives have to be brought together so that we’re not competing against each other.”
BSR proposes hosting a virtual roundtable early in 2023, and an in-person meeting in the second half of the year. Information about upcoming events can be found at www.sustainablecoconutcharter.com, or Grégory Bardies at [email protected] or Nicolas Ronderos at [email protected].
Speaker presentations from this last roundtable can be found here.