Sustainability is offering a future
for generations to come

Sustainability

Van Oers United (VOU) considers worldwide sustainable entrepreneurship to be a logical part of its operational management.

Just as our mission statement ‘Delivering Excellent Produce’ is fully integrated into our operational management, the same applies to fundamental sustainability issues such as:

Food production and consumption as a whole is developing and is a point of focus across the world. The global population is expected to increase to 9 billion by 2050, one third more than now. The agricultural sector will need to produce more food to be able to feed the growing population. More efficient cultivation methods, smart management of natural resources, anticipation of climate change, and investment in agricultural expertise will become key challenges to facing the future together.

Challenges that Van Oers United, as a front-runner in sustainability, is confident about taking on. The wishes, growth and development of our associates is central to this at all times.


VOU Mission Statement

Van Oers United produces and supplies top quality fresh vegetables year-round under safe conditions and with consideration for its employees and the immediate environment.


Sustainability strategy

Van Oers United’s sustainability strategy consists of four pillars – each pillar encompasses the themes in which VOU is actively engaged. Active in the sense of projects and/or supporting initiatives.

Our People

Sustainable entrepreneurship starts with our people. Van Oers United cares about safety and is involved in the welfare of its employees. This applies to our own production sites at all times and is also a critical element in the sourcing of products from partners.



MOST IMPORTANT ACTION LINES

With various production sites in Africa and the Netherlands, the total staff complement in the high season is in excess of 10.000 employees .

Our people are our greatest asset. Guaranteeing good employment conditions and a safe working environment is an absolute must, at our own production sites as well as those of partners.

To safeguard social standards, we regularly carry out audits such as SMETA and BSCI. These certifications guarantee that VOU upholds the international standards of: ‘Health, safety and human rights’, at all production sites.

This is guaranteed additionally in the sector-wide IDH initiative through which the sector strives to achieve 100% sustainable trade in terms of social standards in Africa, Asia and Central and South America. Van Oers United is justifiably proud to report that we have already achieved 96% of this goal. Our aim is to achieve 100% in 2020!

Van Oers United has a dedicated team of suppliers in European countries who uphold responsible working practices. This dedication is reflected in an independent annual audit entitled GRASP (Global G.A.P. Risk Assessment on Social Practices).

Our Working Environment

VOU Growing Sustainable Alliance

Our production sites are located primarily on the African continent. Our partners are based in Africa, as well as Latin America. The Growing Sustainable Alliance (GSA) was established by VOU and its worldwide production sites and partners in 2016. The objective is to advance our shared ambition - the promotion of welfare and prosperity within our direct working environment.

In the first instance, GSA’s policy on social engagement is aimed at fulfilling the basic needs of communities. Often these are absent, or of poor quality and infrastructure.

In addition, GSA will also focus on other areas of fundamental development such as: ‘Stimulating local economies, entrepreneurship, culture and sport, as well as efficient use of natural resources and promotion of local biodiversity’.

Our Production

VOU is aware that our production has an impact on the environment and various raw materials in the broadest sense of the word. The pillar of our production focuses on efficient use of these raw materials and natural resources. This includes sustainable use of water, energy, soil and protecting forms of biodiversity. In this pillar, these issues are at the heart of our ambitions.


KEY LINES OF ACTION

We constantly focus on optimising interaction between production and the environment. Water, soil and energy are crucial for providing top quality products (Delivering Excellent Produce). However, the right balance between input of natural resources and output of products must be maintained to ensure a future for future generations as well.

VOU invests heavily in drip-irrigation systems for all production sites. Currently, more than 2,500 ha of our agricultural land is irrigated in this manner. This means that we use between 10 and 30% less water than with other irrigation methods.
In addition, it prevents soil erosion, reduces fertiliser run-off and helps reduce the risk of weeds and diseases, reducing the need for pesticides.

Drip-irrigation, weather stations and soil moisture sensors allow VOU to very accurately monitor the needs of our crops, resulting in very efficient use of water at all locations.

Our Vegetables

You can taste the results of our efforts in our vegetables. Naturally, we fulfil statutory obligations when it comes to food safety and other labelling guidelines. Our priority is to supply top quality vegetables.

MAIN ACTION LINES – Optimising our waste streams

Food wastage is a recurring theme on the social agenda. A recent FAO study (2016) estimates that nearly 20% of all fruit and vegetables produced across the whole world is thrown away because it does not meet the perceived standard of ‘perfection’. That is a large amount!

At Van Oers United, this is a central theme at our production and processing sites. We therefore recently assessed our waste streams. In addition to wanting to reduce our waste streams, even if only from an economic viewpoint, we are also seriously considering additional processing options. We currently sell local overproduction on the local market, so that our vegetables are still enjoyed by satisfied end customers.
In addition, we look at the possibility of composting, or we supply waste streams to the animal feed industry, but there are more options.

An increasing number of companies and initiatives utilise waste streams as new raw materials. We are currently conducting a feasibility study to gain a greater insight into other potential (industrial) applications, such as freeze-drying or nutrient extraction. More and more organisations and companies are specialising in this field and VOU anticipates many more innovative opportunities for utilising our waste streams even more efficiently in the coming years.

Projects

Morocco – Literacy courses at Quality Bean Morocco

At 41.7%, illiteracy levels are still very high in rural Morocco. These levels are higher amongst women than men. Public schools often have insufficient resources, materials and teaching staff and in addition, have other structural problems which make it difficult for pupils to develop. Schools are sometimes situated miles away from rural villages and many families often have n means of transport to get there.

VOU is convinced that education, regardless of age, is the means to overcome poverty. In addition, schools offer children a safe environment, guidance, supervision and socialisation.

Quality Bean Morocco, our subsidiary in Morocco, has been involved in educational projects since 2007. QBM currently supports two primary schools where over 500 children receive education. In 2016, QBM entered into a partnership with Foundation Sanady, which supports pupils with problems across the whole of Morocco to prevent them dropping out of school early.

In 2010, QBM introduced literacy courses for its employees. This initiative has proved successful. The number of registrations for these courses increases every year. Over 600 employees have thus far learned to read and write.



Ethiopia - Greater biodiversity in bobby bean production in Ethiopia

Our Ethiopian partner’s production operations have become more diverse since 2015. Bobby beans, mangetout and sugar snaps are alternated with strips of coriander, wheat (buckwheat) and sorghum. These serve as habitats for natural predators and pests, which reduces the need for pesticides in vegetable cultivation.

The planting of crops that serve as habitats is one of the measures implemented in the BEB (Business & Biodiversity) initiative as part of the 'No net loss from cultivation to client’ concept. The goal of this project is to anchor biodiversity in operational management structurally. Starting with Ethiopia, after which the results can be followed through at other sites in Morocco, Senegal and other countries.

The company selects the pesticides with the lowest environmental footprint according to an updated environmental yardstick produced by the Centrum voor Landbouw en Milieu (CLM) consultancy. Our Ethiopian partner planted acacias and eucalyptus trees around the fields. A drip irrigation system ensures complete integration and efficiency of all measures collectively: efficient use of water enables crop rotation and ensures that synthetic fertiliser reaches the roots, which prevents it draining away and creating an environmental burden.

This project is a partnership initiative between VOU, the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) and Wageningen University and Research Centre.



Senegal – Production of onions for the local market

Van Oers Senegal (VOS) was established in 2007 in Kirene in the west of Senegal - 70 kilometres from Dakar. Apart from VOS, there are only two other companies that offer employment opportunities to the different communities in that region, which is home to about 1 million people.

To promote lasting employment opportunities in Senegal after the export season, VOS decided to start cultivating onions in between two bobby bean harvests. In addition, the introduction of onions to the crop rotation programme also provides an important contribution to the preservation of healthy and fertile soil.

Onions are one of the staple foodstuffs in Senegalese households. Senegal is highly dependent on imported onions to meet internal demand, particularly in the summer months. The onions produced by VOS are sold primarily on the local market and occasionally in a sub-region. This contributes to self-sufficiency in respect of the country’s onion supply and promotes local entrepreneurship.

Because knowledge transfer is part of this project, VOS provided various training courses locally and organised open days, to which local market gardeners and other relevant stakeholders were invited.

This project is a partnership initiative between VOU, VOS and the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO).



Senegal – Microfinancing as the catalyst for local entrepreneurship

In 2011, VOS established a microfinancing fund for a group of 40 women with a small contribution of € 2,000. They were seeking ways to increase their income and therefore wished to establish small businesses, but lacked the means. With the starting capital they received in the first year, they established fruit stalls and small shops offering groceries and other necessities. The initial financing was increased with the funds generated and more women have joined the group. Five years later, the continuous financing is four times as much and the group has grown to 100 women!

In 2016, VOS made a further contribution to the microfinancing project by purchasing eight sewing machines. The plan is to start a small sewing studio where work and school uniforms can be made.



Senegal – VOS Medical Clinic

The VOS medical clinic was established in 2016 and provides primary healthcare to its 4,000 employees. In recent years, VOS has invested a great deal in improving existing local healthcare facilities in communities around its production sites. In 2016, VOS went a step further by setting up its own clinic at a central location close to the nurseries. Employees can obtain medical assistance, advice and primary healthcare here at any time.



If you would like to support one or more of our projects, please contact our sustainability department.