Updated on December 2, 2019

To make sustainable farming the norm, we need to strengthen partnerships within producing communities, throughout supply chains and across sectors. To find out how the UTZ program is working on this and how it relates to certification we sat down with Mariecke van der Glas, who is responsible for the Rainforest Alliance Sector Partnerships Program.

Beyond the farm gate

The UTZ program has a huge impact on certified farmers, but many of the challenges they face have their causes beyond the farm gate. “There are structural issues to deal with such as child labor, gender inequality and low wages,” says Mariecke, “and to top it all, there’s the massive problem of climate change.”

And farmers aren’t the only ones affected. Mariecke explains: “Because of these issues there is a real threat to the supply of ingredients like cocoa, coffee and tea, which will have a direct impact on the bottom line for many companies. It’s in the interest of the whole supply chain to take action.”

Strength in partnership

Mariecke explains that certification has a vital role to play in tackling all these issues, and side by side with certification we need to see greater collaboration and innovation across sectors. “That’s why back in 2016 we launched our Sector Partnerships Program in collaboration with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to strengthen our work and drive lasting change.”

Putting it into practice

The program addresses six key sustainability themes: living wage, climate change, farmer group strengthening, sustainable productivity, gender and child labor.

Projects are focused on nine countries: Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Uganda, Malawi, Kenya, Indonesia, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala.

“These projects are varied, but they all have a similar approach,” says Mariecke. “From empowering female farmers in Nicaragua, to improving soil fertility in Uganda, and testing an innovative way to tackle child labor in Ghana; each project brings together farmers, supply chain actors and civil society to drive change, while giving a stronger voice to farmers and civil society.”

Project countries UTZ Sector Partnerships program

The role of companies

“This program is an exciting opportunity for companies to influence these important issues and make real improvements in their supply chains,” says Mariecke.

“For example, as part of the program we are working with a large company that wants to explore how to make progress towards paying a living wage to workers in its supply chain. This is a challenging issue, because in many cases we don’t actually know what the wage gap is between the actual salary and a living wage – so the company doesn’t know how much it would cost to start paying a living wage.” We have connected the company with our own experts on the topic, and together we have developed a pilot project to test a new approach in their supply chain. This project helps the company to make its supply chain more sustainable, and the outcomes are fed back into our work with other companies and with the Global Living Wage Coalition.

Mariecke gives another example: the development of national platforms that bring together all the actors in a specific sector. “In several countries we are supporting the development of such platforms, bringing together farmers, traders and other supply chain actors, civil society organizations, and representatives of the government. This allows companies to interact directly with all relevant stakeholders in their sector in a particular country, better understand the interests and create synergies.”

“They also present the perfect venue for farmers to voice their interests – particularly smallholders and women, who are often excluded from such discussions. Farmers and companies together can also share their needs with government representatives – for example, the need for better infrastructure.”

UTZ in Sector Partnerships ProgramStrengthening the core of the UTZ program

Aside from the benefits for companies that get directly involved in projects or platforms, the impact of this area of work will filter through to all members of the UTZ program and also contribute to the development of the 2020 Rainforest Alliance Certification Program. “This program is strengthening our core work and developing our expertise on key issues,” says Mariecke, “which means the impact will be felt in all our producing countries, throughout supply chains, and across sectors.”

Find out more

More information on the issues that we work on can be found here. You can also download our  two pager about the Sector Partnerships Program.

Want to know more about how your company can get involved? Contact us.