Swiss flavor company donates $3.5M to save trees from citrus greening
- Givaudan, a global flavor and fragrance house, donated $3.5 million to the University of California, Riverside to contribute to researching citrus trees that are resistant to citrus greening disease, also known as Huanglongbing (HLB), according to Food Ingredients First.
- The donation will pay for the university to screen in 2.8-acres of citrus groves in order to protect one of the world’s most extensive and diverse assortments of citrus.
- “The collection enables research on HLB as well as other citrus diseases, and even crops which are more popular from a flavor or functionality standpoint,” said Dawn Streich, Givaudan’s Global Citrus Product manager. “With this, the collection provides a basis for resources. Certainly, our wish is that a cure or a solution will be found by doing our part to protect the collection.”
Since citrus greening first made waves in Florida in 2005, the disease has devastated millions of acres of crops in the U.S. In the Sunshine State alone, a study by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension showed orange acreage has been reduced by 26% and yield has decreased by 42% since 2005. Another report from the USDA put that figure even higher, showing that in the last 15 years, Florida saw an almost 60% reduction in citrus production.
The disease has likewise been catastrophic on sales. Citrus greening is responsible for nearly $15 billion worth of lost revenue. According to a 2016 Fresh Plaza report, global citrus sales declined 7% in the two years prior to publishing and production has continued to fall in traditional citrus-producing regions since.
With such serious consequences at stake, it is no surprise that companies and government entities are rushing in to help.
By working with University of California, Riverside to build a "backup tree sanctuary" to protect diverse species of citrus from the disease, Givaudan is ensuring that, should even the worst-case scenario of uncontainable infection come to pass, the U.S. will have a genetic reserve of citrus from which to recultivate groves. If the partnership can succeed in creating resistant trees, then there will be an even greater cause for celebration among citrus lovers and industry professionals.
Citrus is not the only popular ingredient to be subjected to environmental challenges. Cocoa has been weathering climatic change that could have long-term consequences. A 2013 study in the journal Climatic Change said farms may not be able to successfully produce the crop by 2050 because of increasing global temperatures.
In response, companies are investing in farms to add shade trees around cocoa fields, instituting good farming practices and encouraging more sustainable production. The efforts so far are showing sings of working. Cargill had some success helping cocoa farmers with good farming practices in Côte d’Ivoire. After using strategies implemented by the company's Cargill Cocoa Promise, yields jumped by an average of 49% in 2016 and 2017.
Other chocolate producers are trying to bolster sustainability in a number of ways, too. Hershey announced a $500-million investment in West African cocoa sustainability last April, and Nestlé, Lindt, Mars, Mondelez and Barry Callebaut have all ramped up their investments and pledges in sustainability.
Major orange users have increased their investments to combat citrus greening, too. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, which are big buyers of oranges for their Minute Maid and Tropicana brands, respectively, have joined growers and other companies in providing funding to the Citrus Research and Development Foundation.
Clearly, there is a financial incentive for companies to invest a few million dollars to help eradicate challenges facing their crops, whether it's cocoa or citrus, in hopes of improving the predictability of the ingredient in long-term. As crops deal with climate change, diseases and other problems, food, beverage, farmers and trade groups will all have to look for new and innovative ways to protect their livelihoods.