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Watchdog calls out Finnish firms for "unsustainable" cinnamon sourcing

Logging related to harvesting cinnamon threatens Indonesian biodiversity, according to a new report by Finnwatch.

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Image: Mostphotos/ Tage Persson

Cinnamon production is a threat to biodiversity in Indonesia, says civic watchdog organisation Finnwatch in its report, published this week. A large proportion of cinnamon in the Finnish consumer market originates from Indonesia.

Finnwatch examined the origin of cinnamon sold in the Finnish market, and how its sustainability is monitored. The organisation also requested information on cinnamon production from Finnish companies, such as Meira and Paulig, who import the spice.

Most of Meira and Paulig’s cinnamon is from Indonesia; from the Kerinci region on the island of Sumatra, where around 80 percent of the world’s cinnamon comes from. The region has been negatively impacted by unsustainable cinnamon-harvesting practice, according to Finnwatch.

Cinnamon is obtained from the inner bark of cinnamon tree. The easiest way to collect the bark is by logging trees, but the method has been reported to cause a loss of biodiversity, erosion and deforestation in the region.

Clearcutting entire plantations is not necessary, and Finnwatch has made recommendations looking at more sustainable harvesting methods.

Cinnamon can also be harvested by peeling the tree bark without logging entire trees. When an individual tree would be logged, it should be done high enough and leave the bark unpeeled in order to allow it to sprout into a new cinnamon tree.

In a press release, Paulig confirmed the cinnamon used in their Santa Maria products has been predominantly harvested using logging. According to the company, the trees grow back, and the crop naturally regenerates. The company stated they have audited their Indonesian cinnamon importers in 2017 and 2019.

According to Meira, their cinnamon is harvested using the peeling method. The company stated that they send company representatives to conduct audits on the harvest methods every two years. They also train cinnamon farmers on sustainable practices and harvesting during the audit visits.

According to Finnwatch, Meira was not able to adequately verify its partners do not use logging in harvesting.

Currently, around 33 percent of spices purchased by Meira come from countries branded as ‘low-risk’, or from producers that have been certified as responsible by a third party.

Difficult choices for consumers

Buying responsibly-sourced cinnamon is not easy for the consumer, Finér says. It requires an understanding of various certifications such as Fair Trade, Organic and Rainforest Alliance.

However, a product labelled ‘organic’ is no guarantee on the working conditions of cinnamon producers, she notes.

“The problem is that the certificates do not give the full picture. Fair trade only looks at employee wages and work conditions. However, the ecological implications might and other criteria might not be taken to account as much,” Finér says.

"We should be more ambitious with our legislation, which would also mean the burden on consumers could be significantly reduced."

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