Blog post

From farm to plate and cup: innovations in sustainable soy,cocoa and coffee imports into the Netherlands

Published on
December 1, 2016

The ecological footprint of Dutch consumers is estimated at an amount of land three times the surface area of the Netherlands and is one of the heaviest in Europe. If we all lived like the Dutch, the planet

How have such increases in scale been made in these timescales? Does the way in which sustainability initiatives in the cocoa, coffee and soy value chains connected with the Netherlands have been scaled-up offer lessons for other commodities and countries? And how other sectors are stimulated to engage in, sustain and increase such initiatives.


Three types of scaling up of sustainability initiatives were found: (1) platforms, networks and associations that bring together organisations from different segments of the chain, encouraging them to collectively discuss and address sustainability issues; (2) voluntary, third party verified certification standards and schemes, sixteen of which have been increasingly adopted in the three chains, often with indirect government support; (3) individual corporate programmes and projects, often combined with certification, which have created changes in practices in the chain and enhanced consumer awareness of product origins and production processes. Policy instruments have also been used to encourage sustainable production. Policy instruments have traditionally focused on the regulation of technical standards, but the spectrum has broadened, with governments and intergovernmental bodies such as the EU increasingly using a blend of instruments, including corporate self-regulation and semi-private and semi-public regulation, these latter two being the most common governance approaches to encourage the upscaling of sustainability initiatives in commodity chains.

Participation of chain partners

The Dutch linked examples show that most initiatives are focused on improving primary production and processes at farmer level, increasing market demand and consumer awareness for sustainably produced products. The participation of multiple partner organizations in sustainability initiatives has been led by companies with a high degree of power in the supply chain, rather than by government regulations. These companies are also sensitive to negative publicity and are sensitive to their track record on corporate social responsibility. However, upscaling has voluntary sustainability standards.

Collaborating with producer countries

what can governments do to stimulate and utilize these largely private and NGO led initiatives? Removing bottlenecks can help further upscaling of positive initiatives by providing financial incentives such as tax breaks. Easing the costs of participation and, together with businesses, improving data and information to monitor and evaluate sustainability initiatives are key aspects to enable further scaling. Consumer country ggovernments can work more with governments of cocoa, soy and coffee producing countries to develop, implement and enforce policies designed to stimulate sustainable production practices. Intra-government collaboration is helping to create like-minded partners promoting sustainable production at bilateral and EU level.

Stimulating transitions towards sustainable production and consumption.
Working with industry on efficient data collection to provide insights into the costs and benefits of complying with standards, and enable more robust impact assessments. States can also collaborate and support CSOs and knowledge institutes to increase consumer awareness and the transparency and credibility of sustainability initiatives. Joining forces with standard/scheme owners can also aid to harmonise existing standards to reduce consumer confusion and the costs of certification, paving the way for more robust monitoring and evaluation systems and generating increased demand for sustainable products.

The Dutch Vision on Nature

The current policy framework is contributing to recognize and facilitate making commodity value chains more sustainable. In theNational Nature Vision 2014, the Dutch government states that: "Building on the successful chain within individual natural resources flow to develop a regional approach crimp barrel for sustainable chains" (p. 38).

The study onUpscaling sustainability initiatives in international commodity chain, commissioned by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, details the trade perspective to this aspect of nature conservation and trade policies. It contributes to the 2016 Assessment of the Dutch Human Environment (Balans van de Leefomgeving) and the Natural Capital Netherlands Agenda, and to policies concerning the sustainability of international value chains.

Verina Ingram , November 2016