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October 2013

Unilever grows sustainable tomatoes

Executives from Unilever and Extremaduran company Agraz presented their project for sustainable tomato growing, which has achieved water savings of up to 20%, to Miguel Arias Cañete, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Environment.

One of the three objectives of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, presented in 2010, is to source 100% of agricultural raw materials sustainably by 2020. To this end, the company is working with its main suppliers on training, development and investment in new farming techniques which guarantee sustainability throughout the product's entire lifecycle. These are set out in the Unilever Supplier Code, which can be used to evaluate practices and detect and monitor improvements.

Agraz, one of the world's leading tomato producers, is in the middle of harvest season. This year, as a result of its commitment with Unilever, 170,000 tons of tomatoes will be collected and processed using sustainable methods at its plant in Villafranco del Guadiana (Badajoz). Unilever, an English-Dutch mass market company, acquires 3% of the global tomato production volume.

On some farms, probes have already been installed to monitor soil humidity, which optimizes water usage and saves 1.5 million liters of water per hectare per year on average, equivalent to a 20% reduction in consumption. Agraz farmers are being trained in the use of fertilizers and pesticides with a view to reducing CO2 emissions.

In addition to providing the funding to acquire new farming tools, Unilever maintains a close relationship with farmers, promoting innovation and knowledge transfer.

Unilever uses the raw materials obtained from Agraz to manufacture many products for the global market, from soups and creams through to popular sauces, such as ketchup.

This project, by which Unilever promotes sustainable tomato growing throughout Spain, enhances its control over the raw material throughout production, using a more responsible supply model.

Ana Palencia, Head of Communication at Unilever, talks to Wikispanishfood.com about the key aspects of the Sustainable Living Plan

Wikispanishfood.- What does the project entail?

Ana Palencia.- The project is based on one of the objectives of our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, whereby we commit to sourcing 100% of our agricultural raw materials sustainably by 2020. This includes the tomato, which is one of our main raw materials. We are working jointly with our supplier, in this case Agraz, in accordance with our Supplier Code to monitor and measure all processes so as to detect improvements with a view to guaranteeing sustainability across the board. They work in the same way with their farmers who supply tomatoes and, in this way, we spread sustainability throughout the product's lifecycle.

W.S.F.- What are the benefits for the farmer?

A.P.- We implement many measures, each of which has benefits. For example, the probes indicate irrigation frequency. This reduces water waste, providing savings and guaranteeing that the tomatoes are receiving an optimal quantity, which enables them to grow in perfect conditions and avoids them from becoming waterlogged. Another measure enables farmers to monitor fertilizers.

W.S.F.- As regards consumers, how do these tomatoes measure up in terms of organoleptic qualities?  

A.P.- We are committed to offering products with the best quality and flavor to our consumers, such as those supplied by Agraz. To this end, we are working towards sustainable farming to ensure that these values endure over time.  

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