Solvay’s Sustainable Guar Initiative: Top Five Achievements in Five Years
Significantly higher guar yields and farmer revenues shows Solvay’s Purpose in action
Solvay’s Sustainable Guar Initiative has reached an important five-year milestone and we have good news to report on its progress.
Solvay and its partners (NGO TechnoServe, Henkel and L’Oréal), created the initiative in 2015 to help guar farmers increase their yields and revenues, empower women in the communities and protect the fragile environment of the arid region of Bikaner, in the Northwestern Indian province of Rajasthan.
For anyone who doesn’t know, guar is an amazing legume, grown primarily in northern India, that is used as a natural polymer for numerous products. Unlike synthetic chemicals, guar sourced chemicals are natural and not harmful to health or the environment. That’s why you’ll find guar in everything from shampoo and cosmetics to food/beverage products and pharmaceuticals. Solvay transforms guar and sells it to manufacturers such as L’Oréal and Henkel.
In the five years since the initiative was launched, some exciting things have been accomplished. Here are the top five:
1. Guar yields increased by 125% and revenues to farmers by 143%
At the heart of the Sustainable Guar Initiative is training for farmers on the best and most sustainable agricultural practices to enhance guar yields. The initiative provides training sessions on seed selection, land and seed treatment, line sowing, and deep hoeing conducted by the NGO Technoserve. From 2015 to the end of 2020, the program saw a 125 percent increase in guar yields. This led to an increase in revenues to guar farmers of 143 percent over that same time period.
Data collection on more than 3,000 farmers showed the changes in cultivation practices led to increases in guar production yield with no deterioration of the guar bean’s environmental footprint.
To provide one example, Bhawarlal, a guar farmer from Rajasthan, was initially sceptical about the benefits of the new process so he chose to allot only an acre of land, which was not the best suited for guar cultivation, to try these new methods. Even with the less fertile soil, he found the quality of the demo plot crop was superior to the control crop and provided a staggering 435% increase in yield. Read more about his story here.
2. Created a cooperative that helps empower women farmers
Since the launch, the Sustainable Guar Initiative has been deployed in 36 villages and enrolled more than 7,000 farmers. Importantly, 25% of these farmers are women.
As part of the Sustainable Guar Initiative, Solvay created a co-operative that gives farmers more bargaining power and women farmers are gaining more recognition by playing a larger role in the decision making. There are currently 1,162 women out of 3,066 farmers who are involved in the co-operative. There is one woman serving on the board and three others are going through the selection process.
3. Provided training for 1,300 women on how to improve nutrition with a kitchen garden initiative
In addition to the training on guar farming practices, about 1,300 women have also been trained to plant and cultivate kitchen gardens in an effort to promote better nutrition and better health.
The participating farmers have been given information on the benefits of various kinds of vegetables and the importance of including them in their diet. They are given reference material to consult regarding which vegetables to sow at what time during the year. While some women already had rudimentary kitchen gardens, they did not know how to maintain them.
Several women spoke of never having cooked spinach and fenugreek before due to its unavailability in the local market, but thanks to the initiative, they now know how to grow and cook these vegetables. In fact, 89.8% said that the kitchen garden was at least one source of their household vegetable consumption and 96.9% believed that there was an improvement in the nutritional intake of their family.
As one farmer explained, "Ever since I started practicing kitchen gardening in my backyard, my family consumes highly nutritional fresh green vegetables. The training conducted by Technoserve has been a boon. Producing vegetables in my own backyard has given me a sense of accomplishment and purpose."
4. Provided information and training for 1,500 women on menstrual hygiene
Since many women in India do not have access to sanitary products and often use alternatives, such as rags, ash, sand and husks, one of the focuses of the initiative is to provide training on menstruation biology and menstrual hygiene. Thanks to a project with Henkel and TechnoServe, approximately 1,500 women have been trained.
This training aims to dispel commonly held myths and misconceptions about their menstrual cycles and adopt hygiene practices that will enhance their well-being and normalize, or destigmatize, perceptions about menstruation.
As one farmer explained, “I learned that I can cook for my family when I menstruate because I am not impure like I used to think. I know that hygiene and cleaning keeps us safe.”
5. Installed reservoirs to provide nearly 16 million litres of water
As part of the effort to improve farmers’ lives, Solvay and L’Oréal teamed up to provide an artificial lake water reservoir to catch rainwater to help farmers water the crops. This has been hugely beneficial since it rains heavily for only about two weeks a year. The reservoir gives farmers the opportunity to store the water that can be used throughout the year.
In addition, smaller water reservoirs have been installed on roofs to capture water for family kitchen gardens.
The initiative also planted 70,000 trees in the fields and communities with the goal of helping to achieve better soil quality and encourage the water to stay in the soil. The trees also help to prevent sand dune movements.