SAI Platform member O. P. Esperidio Soc. Coop. is an organisation made up of 70 Sicilian producers operating in the production, marketing and distribution of citrus fruit. O.P. Esperidio supplies the food and beverage industry with Protected Geographical Location (IGP) certified oranges and lemons, celebrated for their organoleptic properties deriving from their strategic geographical position on the slopes of Mount Etna.
SAI Platform met with Martina Pia Campisi, Marketing and Communication Manager following their recent verification at FSA silver level to find out more about the organisation’s role in sustainable citrus production and their inspiring journey towards continuous improvement.
Can you tell us more about O.P. Esperidio and the farmers that you work with?
O.P. Esperidio Soc. Coop. is made up by 70 Sicilian growers who produce citrus on the slopes of Mount Etna. Together, the farmers cultivate 1,100 hectares of land close to Palagonia, in Catania, Sicily. The land is very fertile for citrus and is particularly suited to growing red pulp varieties like Tarocco, Moro and Sanguinelli, which are protected and recognised under the Indicazione Geografica Protetta (IGP).
The farmers we work with have a deep connection to their land. Many of them belong to families which have farmed on Mount Etna’s slopes for generations and because of this, they are dedicated to enabling the continuation of their way of life and their farming businesses. Our farmers see sustainability as a vital way to achieve that, by both protecting the land and being able to market their products globally. We are also focused on improving issues relating to social and ethical responsibility, as we believe that this is fundamental to ensuring a healthy business.
In recent years, O.P. Esperidio has committed to creating a sustainable agri-food supply chain. We are determined to guarantee that our products’ quality is in line with eco-friendly agriculture and to stay attentive to the requirements and expectations of our markets.
Why did O.P. Esperidio choose to use the FSA? How does it relate to the company’s own targets and goals?
OP Esperidio believes that we have an obligation to ensure that we are always acting in a way that is socially responsible, for the well-being of the communities. We also believe that our customers deserve a product that has been grown with care towards the environment and towards people.
When setting out our commitment to ensure a sustainable supply chain, we established targets that would help us get there. These included investments in green technologies, the development of eco-friendly, recyclable packaging, the diversification of our product offering and the reusing of materials, so that sustainability is a fundamental part of all our transactions with our clients.
We chose the FSA due to its versatility and global recognition but also because of its focus on continuous improvement. Implementing the FSA has facilitated open communication with our farmers and together, we have been able to identify the areas in need of improvement and establish programmes for changing behaviours and attitudes towards protecting the environment and people.
How important is it to get farmers on board? What did you do to encourage them?
It is hugely important to secure buy in from the farmers and the first step in this process is establishing open communication so that together, we can set common sustainability goals. Our farmers work with knowledgeable agronomists in their fields. These experts are well positioned to advise farmers on how to implement sustainable agricultural practices so they can continue to supply the market with healthy, fresh and safe products.
We started working with our first group of farmers to achieve FSA verification in October 2020 and are pleased to report that together, we have been successful in achieving FSA silver level verification for lemons, mandarins, and oranges. Since then, we have been actively using the FSA continuous improvement plan to set clear and measurable goals and would like to see this first group reach FSA gold level by 2023.
In 2022, it is our ambition to engage a second group of farmers for our next FSA verification and we hope they will also achieve silver level based on current practices. Once verified, we will work closely with this group to establish priorities and secure buy-in for next steps. In this way, the FSA continuous improvement plan helps us to ensure that we continue to progress our sustainability strategy.
How does your FSA verification and your ongoing work on sustainable agricultural practice create commercial value for O.P. Esperidio?
For O.P. Esperidio, increasing our sustainable practices is an important way to create shared value for us and our farmers. By strengthening our farmers’ social, environmental and economic performance, we ensure that our citrus is more competitive. By giving greater sensitivity to our customers’ expectations around sustainability, we have found that our consumers are increasingly attentive and interested in our efforts. It is this loyalty that creates commercial value.
Our FSA verification is a validation of the effort that our farmers go to, to ensure the protection of their environment and the people who work in it, and it is a good way of proving to our customers that we are serious about our impact. Farmers also benefit from more sustainable agriculture practices by optimising their resources and consequently reducing costs.
What advice would you have for companies looking to implement the FSA?
To promote the sustainable production of agricultural products, companies need to take a holistic approach. Having a guide like the FSA, that is focused on good agricultural practices and follows the three pillars of sustainability (People, Planet, Profit) is a good place to start. It helps you understand where you are already doing the right thing while also identifying the areas in need of improvement. It gives both you and your producers confidence that you understand your impact. More than that, it shows you where you can reduce costs, it helps you focus on what is most important, saving time and resources, and it gives your customers the security they need, while improving your market access.
Importantly, the FSA’s versatility and global recognition means that you can be certain that you are on the right path. Supporting the process of measuring your sustainability impact along the entire supply chain not only satisfies your customers on social and environmental issues, but also leads to an improvement in your business’s long-term economic prospects.
For more information about the FSA or if your company is interested in sharing your story of using the FSA, get in touch through firstname.lastname@example.org.