Originally published on LinkedIn by Alastair Child, Vice President of Global Sustainability at Mars Wrigley
COVID-19 has presented challenges and hardships for virtually everyone, in every corner of the earth. But it’s important to remember that some people and some communities are hit harder than others. The farming families of our Shubh Mint program in northern India are a prime example. We have learned that with deeper involvement in our supply chains we are better placed to understand the challenges faced by those we source from and driven by our principle of Mutuality we believe that addressing those challenges is both good for farmers and in turn good for business.
So, what is Shubh Mint?
Mint is an essential ingredient for many of our most loved brands from Altoids® to Extra® and Orbit®. Shubh Mint (Auspicious Mint) was designed to improve mint farmer incomes for more than 20,000 farmers in Uttar Pradesh, India. It aligns with our Sustainable in a Generation Plan—our commitment to limit our environmental impact and improve lives for people along our value chains. In particular, the program focuses on the key priority areas of increasing farmer incomes, reducing our water footprint, and unlocking opportunities for women.
How we got started on this journey
In 2015, our strategic implementing partner Tanager conducted a baseline study to fully understand the entire mint supply chain in India. The results were clear—mint farmers in Uttar Pradesh were not thriving. Farmers were only earning $0.70 per day from mint, and they did not have the technical knowledge they needed to maximize their income from growing mint. This lack of knowledge led to underperforming yields and inefficient use of water. Women faced structural barriers to education and finance and had unequal household decision-making agency. All in all, the situation did not align with our Five Principles, nor our Purpose—The world we want tomorrow starts with how we do business today. Thus, the Shubh Mint program was born, and it’s been one of the most rewarding initiatives of our sustainability journey.
What we’ve accomplished thus far
Since kicking off the program, we’ve trained more than 24,000 farmers on Good Agricultural Practices. Yields have increased by roughly 60%, and input costs have been reduced by more than 20%. This has led to an increase in mint crop income of over 250%. And through our training we have reduced the demand for water by 50%. We’ve also established four Farmer Producer Companies (FPCs), one of which has already done $1.3 million in transactions of mint oil and input supplies.
In four years, we have engaged over 8,000 women through women farmer groups (WFGs) and self-help groups (SHGs). 4,800 have been trained in their rights and entitlements, financial literacy, nutrition, health and sanitation. More than 10,000 loans have been distributed through SHGs. Through our Kitchen Garden intervention, 750 women are now growing nutrient-rich vegetables to support their homes through better nutrition and income diversification. And our Total Literacy intervention, 500 women have learnt basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills.
How have Shubh Mint Farmers withstood COVID-19?
Without a doubt, the gains we’ve made are meaningless if they fail the test of unforeseen adversity. And for sure, COVID-19 is disrupting the lives of mint farmers in Uttar Pradesh. Early in 2020, markets and input supply chains were heavily disrupted. For example, Shubh Mint farmers faced limited access to fertilizers and other inputs as a result of restrictions on domestic travel within India. Household incomes were reduced due to limitations on trade that resulted in losses in many on-farm and off-farm income opportunities. These shocks to livelihoods resulted in an increase in food insecurity across the region. All in all, COVID-19 has presented significant hardship for mint farmers in this part of the world. At the same time, these disruptions have shown how critically important the programs we’ve helped to put in place truly are.
Access to finance for women
As part of the self-help groups, the groups create a system of savings and inter-loaning amongst the group members. In the face of income loss and increased food insecurity, these loans have helped bridge cash flow deficiencies. In some instances, women have taken loans to start new micro enterprises. These self-made entrepreneurs have become the sole household earners throughout the pandemic. COVID-19 has shown these families are better able to absorb shocks, making us optimistic that other unexpected events, such as house repairs or sickness might more easily be absorbed as well.
Shareholders of the FPC
Other farmers have been able to transition from being individual farmers to selling their mint oil to traders at farmer-producer organizations that Shubh Mint has helped establish. Some have become shareholders of the company, enabling them to grow more quality mint and get research-based advice on good agricultural practices. It’s opportunities like these, where we see the entire community embrace opportunity that excite us about the future of Shubh Mint.
How Mars supports mint farmers during the pandemic
Our first priority has been to continue providing essential support safely. We’ve maintained daily engagement with Shubh Mint farmers, but how we engage with them has changed. As the pandemic has progressed, we’ve leveraged technology to host virtual discussions, and adjusted in-person meeting formats to one-on-one and small group convenings to maintain social distancing requirements.
As part of our Shubh Mint program, we’ve also launched a COVID-response with CARE, a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty, with a special focus on working alongside women and girls. Our ongoing response and recovery efforts are designed to reduce vulnerabilities associated with the food, health and nutrition security of women mint farmers and their households, and to strengthen livelihoods practices that will enable a swifter recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. With CARE, we’ve provided PPE to 25,000 mint farmers, distributed food rations to more than 4,700 households and are designing infrastructure to deploy soft loans and cash support to most vulnerable households.
What we’ve all learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is that we can always do more to strengthen the health and vitality of critical systems that impact society and the planet. That is why we’re working hard to design the next iteration of the project to further advance farm and community resilience. Over the next five years we will:
- Strengthen the supply chain with long-term plans for sustainable farmer-producer organizations
- Further unlock opportunities for women and access to education for children
- Advance water-saving systems across mint farms and the entire catchment
- Focus on a full-farm approach looking at improving incomes across rotational crops
- Become a Farmer Income Lab Lighthouse Program – ensuring a strong focus on monitoring, evaluation, and learning, turning insights into action
I look forward to sharing more as we take our work on these critical issues into the next phase.