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Support for guar farmers in Northern India keeps expanding

The source of guar gum, a widely used thickener across a variety of industries, the guar bean is a legume predominantly cultivated in semi-arid regions of Northern India. In 2015, the Sustainable Guar Initiative was launched in Rajasthan’s poor agricultural district of Bikaner by international NGO TechnoServe, a Solvay initiative in partnership with L’Oréal, which was subsequently joined by other international companies that purchase guar-derived ingredients for their products. The purpose of the Initiative is to improve the revenue of guar farmers through higher prices and better agricultural practices. Training and education programs also extend to other domains such as water management, nutrition, and empowering women farmers.

As the Sustainable Guar Initiative enters its eighth year of existence, we touched base with Kumar Rupam, Senior Project Manager at TechnoServe, and Chloé Moreau, head of Sustainability at Solvay’s Novecare business unit, to take stock of its latest developments and Solvay’s continued commitment to it.

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The Sustainable Guar Initiative works because it’s based on the creation of shared value.

Kumar Rupam, Senior Project Manager, Technoserve
 

Information and autonomy for guar farmers

“The program has grown significantly over the past 12 months,” says Kumar. “It has gone from 36 to 60 involved villages, with 12,600 farmers now registered.” The reason for this success is that the farmers have been seeing the program’s concrete effects on the improvement of their quality of life. Simultaneously, the number of cosmetics and homecare brands getting involved to support it has kept growing. In addition to the historical partners such as L’Oréal and Henkel, a new major consumer goods corporation, Procter & Gamble, has joined, and negotiations are underway with others, including for new markets such as the agrochemical industry.

Through their financial support to the program, these customers also support the farmers, who are united within a Farmer Producer Company (FPC). Additionally, the Sustainable Guar Initiative has been systematizing traceability, to ensure everyone gets the best deal and the best product. “The main components of the program remain, but the level of maturity has increased,” explains Chloé. “We can see that in the way the farmers appropriate the program and are thinking of next steps.”

The program’s focus on women has also been reaping results. “We see women farmers talking with more confidence about their problems, coming up with business ideas to gain even more autonomy, which aligns perfectly with our missions,” says Kumar. “And it’s a sign that things are changing.”

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As an illustration of this, he adds that TechnoServe recently ran a program sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for digital literacy for women. Reaching out to 1600 women in 46 villages, the program led them to learn new skills such as using their smartphones to learn about the market, but also about nutrition and social rights. 

Mohini-Devi

“I had never held a phone in my hands before this initiative,” says Mohini Devi (pictured left), a beneficiary of the program in the village of Khari. “Joining the Bridging the Digital Divide program happened to be a turning point in my life. I received training on basic and advanced functions of smartphones, including some useful applications. I am grateful to this initiative and the team who supported me through this journey.” 

“Programs such as this one have a strong impact because they give farmers access to a new window of information,” continues Chloé. “And as we know, information is power.”

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Shared value creation is the key

By all measures, the Sustainable Guar Initiative is a large-scale endeavor: for TechnoServe, it’s one of the organization’s largest ongoing programs, and for Solvay, the longevity and scale of the Group’s involvement is truly unique. Given its success so far, the next steps are to continue anchoring it in new villages, along with increasing efficiency through better training delivery and teaching more new practices. “We also want to increase the participation of women over the next few years: we would like to see more women in the governance of the FPC for example,” adds Kumar.

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The program’s other aspects such as building water reservoirs, promoting rooftop water collection and the creation of kitchen gardens are set to continue to expand as well. The idea is that in the long run, help will no longer be needed. 

“Our long-term objective is to make the farmers autonomous with the program,” says Chloé. “Ideally, twenty years from now, farmers will no longer need our support.” 

In the meantime, the Sustainable Guar Initiative is reaching the objectives contained in its very name. “This Farmer Producer Company is among the largest in Rajasthan,” concludes Kumar. “The program works because it’s based on the creation of shared value.”