Tate & Lyle Stevia farmers

Ingredient producer Tate & Lyle is expanding its sustainable stevia production project in two Chinese provinces.

Participating farmers would “be supported to pursue sustainability-related verification for their stevia through the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform’s Farm Sustainability Assessment and have been encouraged to sign Tate & Lyle’s Stevia Supplier Sustainability Commitment”, it said.

CEO Nick Hampton said the project was “laying the groundwork for the sustainable development of the stevia industry” and would “help our customers deliver on their carbon reduction commitments”.

Work on the project began in 2019 and saw Tate & Lyle team up with Oxford-based NGO Earthwatch Europe and Nanjing Agricultural University in China, which is known for its research into artificial meat.

The project’s “hands-on approach”, according to Earthwatch Europe director Maria Pontes, would help growers to build ”a strong supplier network, while making a real change to the environment”.

The latest phase will follow an on-farm pilot programme implemented last year, which, Tate & Lyle said, “aimed to reduce the impacts of fertiliser use and help farmers to understand soil health through regular, straightforward testing”.

The statement did not reveal how many farms or how much stevia production the project would cover, but said it would take in growers in the province of Jiangsu, in the east of China, and Gansu in the west of the country.

The initial 2019 project covered 29 farms, a statement at the time said, before “more than 100 farmers” in January signed up to Tate & Lyle’s supplier sustainability terms.

Stevia has long been used a sweetener or low-calorie, low-carb alternative to sugar and to artificial sweeteners in parts of Asia and South America. As it is hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, stevia is tricky to use in baking, potentially limiting its utility as a sugar replacement.

But demand for stevia was “growing” across Europe, the UK included, according to an assessment published last year by the Dutch foreign ministry. 

*an earlier version of this article mistakenly referred to Tate & Lyle Sugars