Lab Session #15 – How to communicate living income

On 4 July, ‘Verstegen Spices and Sauces’ hosted the 15th lab session. They took the Lab partners back to the origin presenting the results of a living income study into their nutmeg supply chain. As always with Lab sessions, there was no sitting back during this journey; participants were invited to come up with creative ideas on how to communicate the results of such a study to consumers.

The nutmeg blockchain project

For over ten years, Verstegen is buying nutmeg from farmers in the Sulawesi region in Indonesia. Together with these farmers, Verstegen and Fairfood embarked on a journey to put the harvest of December 2018 on the blockchain. Verstegen is investing in a sustainable and future-proof food system and blockchain technology holds the potential to make our food supply chains transparent. The traceability tool running on blockchain technology allows Verstegen and the consumer to follow the nutmeg back to the origin.

Verstegen aims for the farmers to earn a living income, so ultimately, they can invest in sustainable production methods and take better care of the world. For this, Fairfood conducted research into how much nutmeg farmers in the Indonesian Sangihe Islands currently earn with the production of nutmeg and how big the gap is with a living income. Without living wage or living income benchmarks available for the location, Fairfood also calculated the costs of living for a household on the Island.

Results of the living income research

The study showed that the nutmeg farmers from which Verstegen sources have different profiles. Some farms are large with many nutmeg trees, while other farmers have just a few trees. This creates large differences in production quantity and nutmeg sales. In addition, the income sources of the nutmeg households differ remarkably. Some households rely on farming income whereas others have significant off-farm income from running their own business or earning wages. Hence, the money coming from the nutmeg production is often a limited part of the total household income. At the moment, only large farms earn a living income from the production of nutmeg.

Since the profiles of the farmers are so diverse, further research is needed to define sustainable nutmeg production on Sangihe Island and set a living income reference price per kg of nutmeg. The results of the study suggest that paying a higher nutmeg price is not the only intervention to increase the nutmeg farmers’ income. There is potential for Verstegen to provide training for farmers to increase yield and improve product quality, and to facilitate access to finance to, for example, buy nutmeg trees.

Communication to the public

By scanning the QR-code on the nutmeg package, consumers will have access to an app that takes them back to the origin, connects them with the people behind their food, and verifies claims. Through group work, Lab members developed a communication strategy to share complex information on living income with consumers in this app and with the public in the press. It resulted in the following recommendations to Verstegen and Fairfood:

  • Be honest in your communication about the product and the project.
  • Keep offline communication about the project and the issue simple; don’t make things too complicated.
  • Communicate what you have done so far and publish a roadmap: what do you want to achieve and how?
  • Focus on the strength of the project and the potential impact: the use of blockchain, which leads to transparent and connected chains and which will result in inclusion of farmers who can negotiate better prices and deals.
  • Share a personal story of one or more nutmeg farmers.
  • Make a commitment in your communication about your financial/non-financial investment in the project.
  • Build various levels of information in your online communication for different types of audiences (uninformed, informed, specialists). Make use of click-throughs in the app and/or website.
  • Keep the audience up to date about the progress of the project via the website, app and email.
  • Finally, be mindful of the image of nutmeg in the Dutch cuisine. There could be potential to use the communication of the project to promote the use of the product.

More this year

If you are curious about the nutmeg blockchain project, which will go live in August, stay tuned through the websites of Verstegen and Fairfood.

On the 5th and 6th of November we hope to see you all at The only way is Up! Conference. This international conference on living wage and living income in the agri-food sector is organized by Hivos and Fairfood together with the Dutch and German government, Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and IDH at the Van Nelle Fabriek in Rotterdam. If you wish to know more about the event, please get in touch via

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