Unilever plants small coconut trees in Indonesia to boost sugar supply for soy sauce

06 Jul 2022 — Unilever has planted 3,300 hectares of mini Genjah Kuning Bali coconut trees native to Indonesia with a shorter growth span. The initiative aims to sustain a good harvest for local farmers in Indonesia and meet food, drink and beauty product demands currently under threat.

The company aims to draw half of its coconut sugar supply from this new variety of trees by 2026. 

The initiative is run in partnership with the Indonesian National Coconut Institute. The mini coconut trees only grow to ten meters which makes harvesting easier. They take four years to mature rather than seven, as with their counterparts. 

In addition, collecting sap for coconut sugar will be made faster and safer for farmers, particularly women.  

Naturally sweet staples
Coconut oil and coconut sugar are a few key ingredients drawn from the fruit, which are used in many everyday food, drink and beauty products. For example, coconut sugar is a key ingredient in Bango sweet soy sauce, a staple for Indonesians. 

It is estimated that overall tree productivity in Asia – where most coconuts are grown – will decline by more than 80% by 2027 unless plantations are replaced with new, healthy seedlings and modern planting methods.Coconut sugar is used in Bango sweet soy sauce. 

Coconut trees grow up to 30 meters high and are often dangerous for local farmers to climb and harvest the fruit. As a result, many of the plantations have been abandoned. These trees are also older, and their sap flow declines, meaning they receive fewer nutrients and water. These need to be replaced with healthier saplings.

Training program for coconut farmers
Unilever planted the trees in collaboration with 3,600 smallholder farmers in Lampung, South Sumatra, Sukabumi and Pangandaran in West Java. The initiative is expected to benefit around 5,000 Indonesian households. 

Meanwhile, a training and fertilizer distribution program will equip smallholder farmers in Indonesia with the skills and knowledge they need to nurture the trees and increase resilience against climate change. 

Another tool used in Unilever sustainability arsenal is the SmartFarmPlus app which supports farmers in increasing their yields. It contains information about the plantations, such as how mature the trees are and shares it with the farmers.  

Planting mini coconut trees is part of Unilever’s commitment to its Sustainable Coconut Charter, an initiative to improve incomes and livelihoods of smallholder farmers, enhance supply chain traceability, prevent deforestation and mitigate climate change. The charter gives farmers access to better markets, finance and technology, and increased productivity. 

In other green developments, Barry Callebaut launched a scorecard to define and develop sustainable practices in coconut production and address “untackled challenges” across the sector, together with Nestlé and Proforest.

Edited by Inga de Jong

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