New hazelnut standard contributes to change in sector

Hazelnuts and chocolate are a treat for children and adults alike. However both are crops ripe with sustainability challenges at the farm level. The two most prevalent are low productivity and conditions for farmworkers. Seas of Change team member Stephanie Daniels had the opportunity to see these challenges first hand in Turkey in a recent meeting of Utz Certified’s multi-stakeholder Standards Committee.  The Committee oversees and approves changes in the Utz Codes as well as new codes, and we traveled to Turkey to learn from the first year of Utz Certified pilot of a new sustainability standard in Turkish hazelnuts.

Utz Certified started a three-year initiative to develop and test a new standard for good agricultural practices, fair working conditions and environmental stewardship in hazelnuts.  The initiative, supported by leading European retailers Migros, Natra, Rewe and Jumbo, is being piloted with farmers in the principal growing regions of Turkey, which produces more than 70% of the world’s hazelnuts.

Core among the challenges to a sustainable hazelnut sector is assuring good working conditions for migrant farmworker families, and addressing the need for education and safe housing for their children. Hazelnut farming in Turkey is not mechanized and depends on manual labor for harvesting and pruning the dense, shrub like trees.  The majority of Turkey’s 479,000 hazelnut farms are small scale with an average of 1.4 hectares. Many landowners have either migrated to the city or hire managers to run their farms; and most farms depend on hired workers to harvest the nuts in the short, month-long harvest in August and September.  In some regions, local people work in agriculture; while in other regions hazelnut farmers depend on migrating families that come from southeastern Turkey for the harvest.

Official reports estimate that close to 300,000 people traveled to work in agriculture in Turkey in 2011, while other reports estimate migrant workers to be closer to 1 million. There are no official reports of how many children are working, but it’s widely acknowledged that children are working and often experiencing what the ILO defines as worst forms of child labor such as carrying heavy sacks, using sharp tools and lacking any protective equipment. Hazelnuts are only one of the many crops these families work in, others include: sugar beet, vegetables, oranges and apricots and livestock. But hazelnuts are among the most economically important as an export crop and visible to the European buyers given the strict laws regarding child labor in Europe and consumer awareness of the issue.

Utz Certified’s standard will provide organization and visibility into the supply chain, and bring incentive for the suppliers to provide training and requirements to the hazelnut growers.  The Utz effort runs parallel to other programs that have been running for a number of years to tackle similar challenges, foremost among them is Ferrero’s Farming Values project, which works directly with approximately 7500 farmers to optimize their productivity, ensure good working conditions and improve product quality.  Sector actors recognize that while progress is being made in hazelnuts the solution to poverty among migrant families and education and advancement for their children is much more complex and requires concerted action by the Turkish government and development in their home region.  Hazelnuts may not be the entire solution to this challenging situation, yet  are clearly an important lever toward positive change.