Expertise on agricultural commodities

Natural rubber

Natural rubber is part of a variety of everyday products, such as tires, latex gloves, mattresses or condoms. The acreage for rubber is growing rapidly. The consequences are deforestation, destruction of peatlands and land rights conflicts. More than 90 percent of the cultivation takes place in Southeast Asia, mostly in Thailand and Indonesia. The cultivation of rubber is very labor-intensive and 80 per cent of small-scale farmers are exposed to fluctuating world market prices


In the US, Brazil and Argentina, 80 percent of soy is produced. Rainforests and dry forests of the Cerrado and Gran Chaco are being cleared, especially in Latin America, for the extraction of new crops. There is the displacement of traditional land users. From 1990 to 2008 alone, soybean cultivation contributed to deforestation of 13 million hectares. This represents about 19 percent of all deforestation caused by the expansion of agricultural land. One of the reasons for this is an increased consumption of meat with increasing prosperity, because soy is mainly used as protein feed for chickens, pigs and cattle. In the form of tofu, soy milk or soy sauce, we consume only 6 percent of soybeans worldwide

Palm Oil

Palm oil is contained in many products of our daily consumption and the demand in Germany is increasing. The largest share of palm oil exports is currently consumed by the energy sector, followed by the food industry and the animal feed sector. Indonesia and Malaysia produce 84 percent of the world's palm oil. Oil palm plantations are largely managed by large companies, but oil palm farming is also a significant source of income for small farmers. The business is lucrative for the producing countries, which is why primary forests are being cleared for new acreage. Associated with this is the loss of biodiversity and the release of climate gases through deforestation and cultivation on peat soils. That's why more and more companies in Europe are using certified palm oil.


Most of the bananas consumed in the EU are imported from Latin America, where 80% of them are grown on large plantations. The most important producer countries for the world market are Ecuador, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Colombia. Germany is one of the biggest importers of bananas and thus contributes significantly to the problems in the producing countries.

Biodiversity losses, soil degradation and water pollution are the biggest problems there. In addition to the environmental challenges, there are also social ills within the value chain for bananas, for example, the poor pay of workers on the plantations and the health hazards of people through the pesticides used.

Aggressive price negotiations between food retailers and traders and banana producers keep consumer and producer prices low. This additionally reduces the scope for improving the growing conditions


Around 125 million people work in the coffee sector worldwide. 25 million producers, mostly small-scale families, make their living growing coffee, many of them living in poverty. The main challenges are the extremely low prices for green coffee, rising production costs and the consequences of climate change. The processing, which generates the highest profit, takes place to a large extent in the consuming countries. In Germany, for example, the second largest importer of coffee, a part is re-exported after processing. But a lot of coffee is consumed here as well. The per capita consumption of coffee beans 2016/2017 at 162 liters per year and is therefore higher than the consumption of mineral water (153l) or beer (104l)


5.5 million people work in cocoa cultivation worldwide. Most of them are peasant farmers. Fluctuating, low world market prices, the concentration of power within the value chain and the dependence on cocoa cultivation are major causes for the continuing poverty of cocoa farmers and cocoa farmers and lead to exploitative child labor. In the main producing country, Côte d'Ivoire, almost 90% of cocoa farmers do not earn a living wage. The ongoing deforestation of tropical rainforests for cultivated land, the degradation of soils and the loss of biodiversity are also lasting challenges. The EU, as the largest importer of cocoa beans, and Germany in particular, as the largest exporter and producer of cocoa-containing products, such as chocolate, has a key responsibility in meeting these challenges.

Orange juice

Orange juice is one of the most popular fruit juices in the world. In Germany alone, per capita consumption is over 7 litres per year. This makes Germany and the EU the most significant buyers of direct juice and orange juice concentrate. 80% of the demand for juice is met by the world’s largest orange juice exporter, Brazil, which processes 70% of its national orange harvest into orange juice and exports 98% of it.Most juice oranges are grown in monocultures on large plantations in southern Brazil. The state of São Paulo, for example, produced 75% of the country’s oranges in 2018. Moreover, the orange juice value chain displays a high level of vertical integration and a focus on three major companies.

Not only does this have substantial ecological consequences; the working conditions on the orange plantations often involve poor social and labour standards. During the harvest, workers often perform piecework, sometimes without personal protective equipment, particularly from pesticides, while working under extreme physical strain. Working time regulations are frequently violated, and the income is often inadequate to live on.

The Partnership for Sustainable Orange Juice (PANAO) was founded with the aim of improving the living and working conditions for workers and producers in the orange juice supply chain, and to increase the long-term proportion of sustainable orange juice in Germany and the EU. It includes stakeholders from private business, civil society and trade unions as well as the public sector.


Over 29 million households in approximately 80 countries around the world produce cotton. From seed grain to cotton bale, the cotton sector provides a livelihood for 150 million people worldwide. In most countries of the Global South, such as India, Pakistan, Burkina Faso, Mali, Benin, Tanzania, but also China, cotton is farmed predominantly by smallholders.

In Africa, it is cultivated largely by families performing manual labour and fieldwork. Yields are very low by global standards and cannot guarantee an adequate or living income. More affordable synthetic fibres are putting significant pressure on the cotton market, threatening the ability especially of smallholders to compete. In addition, the global cotton industry is facing a wide range of challenges, such as climate change and child labour. The effects of climate change mean that cultivation regions tend to shift, making production conditions more difficult, while exploitative child labour in the cotton fields frequently endangers long-term local development.

Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a worldwide slump in the cotton and textile supply chain. Sales of raw cotton have slowed as a result of the global restrictions, which has led, among other things, to significant price fluctuations. At this point there is no way to predict the long-term consequences for the global cotton industry. Logos from standards organisations remain an important lever for improving the social, ecological and economic sustainability of cotton.

Almost 30% of cotton produced globally now comes from certified sustainable farming. The main standards systems through which sustainable cotton is certified are Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Cotton Made in Africa (CmiA) and Fairtrade Cotton.

However, sustainable cotton still too rarely reaches the retail market, which means that smallholder families are not yet benefitting sufficiently from sustainable farming methods. A major lever for effecting social and ecological improvements in cotton farming countries is to increase active demand for sustainable cotton. This can however only be achieved by collaborating and cooperating with the private sector.