Empowering farmers in India to support sustainable guar sourcing
Since 2015, Solvay has been spearheading a large-scale development initiative for local farmers in arid north-western India. Why? Guar is the answer…
You might not know it, but you’ve probably consumed guar before, while washing your hair or enjoying a snack. From cosmetics to food and beverages, oil and gas and pharmaceuticals, this widespread thickener derived from the seed of a drought-resistant legume is just about everywhere. Another thing you might not know is that 80 percent of the world’s guar is produced in India, mostly in the semi-desert regions of Rajasthan.
The underrated value of guar
The Sustainable Guar Initiative was launched in 2015 with TechnoServe, an international NGO promoting business solutions to fight poverty, to improve guar farmers’ standard of living. As the world leader in guar derivatives, it made perfect sense for Solvay to get involved, in partnership with one of its main customers for guar products as well as Hindustan Gum, the Indian joint venture Solvay established in 1962 to source guar seeds and produce guar gum splits and guar powder.
The initiative has several objectives: to encourage sustainable agriculture and increase farmers’ revenues through good practices, but also to empower women, as often the most efficient agents of change. The outcome creates a win-win situation where guar farmers earn a better living and buyers obtain higher quality and improved supply security.
“The guar market suffers from uncertain prices and poor remuneration for farmers”, explains Ravdeep Kaur, who is responsible for the project at TechnoServe India. “Because of this, guar was never considered a priority by the authorities or the farmers. This project, a first of its kind, showed its value.”
Smarter farming and more
A total of 1500 volunteer farming households in Bikaner – a poor district of Rajasthan where 80 percent of the population depends on agriculture and where guar is one of only two grown crops – are covered by the initiative, whose aim is to increase guar farmers’ revenues by 25 percent over three years. “It took some effort to motivate farmers to invest in good practices related to guar, a crop that traditionally doesn’t generate much income,” explains Ravdeep Kaur. Understanding its value down the supply chain was a key element.”
As the program reaches the end of its second year, 20 to 40% yield increases have been recorded. “We work both on better crop yields and more remunerative prices. We have seen results in just two years, and for year three, we aim at 70-80 percent of farmers adopting the good practices we taught them,” – including seed selection, seed treatment, in-line sowing or integrated pest management (IPM).
But the program goes beyond growing guar. Women farmers have, for instance, been learning to adopt better nutritional practices – while saving money – by growing vegetables in kitchen gardens, in a region where the traditional diet is alarmingly monotonous.
To support the program over the long term, demo farms and village committees have been created to continue spreading awareness and knowledge. “We aim to capacitate farmers sufficiently so that they pursue the processes we have instituted,” – hopefully rendering the program self-sustained. “Solvay definitely was the one to take the initiative here,” adds Ms. Kaur. “It’s great to work with such a committed partner.”