Dutch Government and partners initiate Colombia sustainability drive

Producer organizations and private companies in Colombia have joined hands to reduce the gap between sustainable supply and demand on three main agricultural products from the country, namely banana, coffee and flowers. The initiative which has a target deadline of 2015 is driven through a multi-stakeholder, Platform of Sustainable Trade.

The Embassy of Netherlands in Colombia contributed to the concept development of the platform and provided the initial funding. Solidaridad manages a professional team contracted to the platform in order to facilitate the process. A cross-sector collaboration approach will be followed for the initiative to leverage sector knowledge and capacities to reach sustainability.

The first meeting of the Steering Committee of the platform took place in June this year. It was chaired by the Ambassador of the Netherlands in Colombia, Mr Robert van Embden. The Dutch government initiated the first steps which led to the establishment of the platform.

Colombia is seen as an important future sourcing partner for Europe and the Netherlands in particular, since it ranks as one of the top five global exporters in the identified agricultural export products. The country ranks second in the global export of flowers, third in coffee and fourth in bananas.

The banana and flower sectors together generate about 2 billion US$ in annual export income for Colombia. These sectors also sustain approximately 150,000 direct workplace employment and are important commercial linkages in the local economy.

Sector sustainability targets

Gonzalo La Cruz, Managing Director of Solidaridad Andes, explains that working at sector level involving multi-stakeholder participation in search of solutions to barriers for sustainability is a welcome next step after years of building sustainability in the coffee and bananas sectors.

“The initial steps taken years ago were possible through the crucial contributions of pioneers and front-runners from farm to the marketplace, who also introduced the new challenging codes of conduct in the supply chain. In most cases these audited and certified codes through labeling schemes were demanded by the retailers,” he says.

La Cruz believes that the interests of most producers, traders, certification organizations and the government in Colombia will strengthen and improve the growing reputation of the country as a global leader in sustainability of coffee and bananas.

The sectors have set the following 2015 sustainability milestones:

  • The banana sector aims to produce 36 million boxes under sustainability standards and reach sales of about 19 million boxes with sustainability recognition in the market.
  • Colombia’s coffee sector aims to be 60% sustainable with annual sales of sustainable coffee of up to 2 million bags a year.
  • The flower industry strives to have a 25% increase in sustainable flower exports to the European market.
  • Colombia’s palm oil sector will join the sustainable trade platform by the end of 2013.

“In flowers the main target is to increase sea trade in order to reduce the carbon footprint since the transportation of most flowers is done by air. For coffee the idea is to make production more climate-smart in terms of increasing its resilience against climate challenges s such as floods and rust leave disease,” La Cruz explained.

Steering Committee members

Participants of the first Steering Committee meeting were Solidaridad, The Royal Netherlands Embassy in Colombia, Colombian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Colombian Coffee Growers’ Federation, Colombian Flowers’ Association (Asocolflores) and Colombian Banana Growers’ Association (Augura) and the Association of Coffee Export companies (Asoexport).

The Dutch Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) of the Netherlands also attended meeting and is a member of the Steering Committee. Members of the Steering Committee approved the current action plan which will run until May 2014.