I have just returned from the guar fields in the Bikaner district of Rajasthan (India), where Solvay is leading the Sustainable Guar Initiative in partnership with L’Oréal, the founding member. This ambitious program aims to encourage modern, sustainable agricultural practices among local farmers. Unknown to many, guar is an amazing legume which is used to create gelling and thickening agents with applications in a wide range of industries. Already more than 1,500 farmers have registered to participate in the initial phase of the project!
Solvay’s first sustainable guar project
For us, this project is a first of its kind. Ensuring value across the entire supply chain, L’Oréal brings their experience in sustainable sourcing via their Solidarity Sourcing™ umbrella. In 2014, L’Oréal met us to decide how together we could positively impact guar farmers and their communities. The Sustainable Guar Initiative is a great fit for both Solvay’s and L’Oréal’s sustainable programs and ambitions.
Together with L’Oréal, we commissioned Technoserve a global nonprofit economic development organization to spearhead the on-the-ground implementation. Last year, the final pre-assessments on 10 villages in Bikaner were completed. The official launch got underway this year and started the implementation of model sustainable agricultural practices in these communities.
Inclusive approach benefits everyone in the village
All are invited to participate in the project, and of the 1500 farmers who have already registered, 200 are women.
Recent successful activities included the setup of demonstration plots; one for each of the 10 selected villages. These demo farmers are strongly invested in the program and have provided a small piece of land to share with other farmers in the village to share best practices of guar cultivation.
TechnoServe experts on the ground train farmers and show how sustainable farming practices can be implemented in a practical way. By comparing the crops grown on the demonstration land with those grown under normal circumstances, the farmers can quickly recognize the benefits of sustainable methods.
Our efforts also focus on expanded societal inputs helping local women establish kitchen gardens, providing food for their own families, as well as a potential secondary income source. It is interesting to note that the local people do not eat guar. Instead they treat guar as a cash crop; selling the seeds when they need money.
Seed and land management lead to gains
One of the significant issues identified by the guar farmers is seed management, a primary focus of TechnoServe. With training, farmers learn how to identify healthy, quality guar seeds and how to secure, harvest and store them for the next year’s crop.
Another area of training covers land preparation and sowing techniques. In the past, guar farmers would simply scatter the seeds on the ground in the hope they would germinate. Through Sustainable Guar Initiative, farmers learn healthy soil habits and line sowing methods which increase the chance of germination.
Over the coming years, we seek to increase the number of partners and outreach to farmers to participate in the Sustainable Guar Initiative. To date, the level of farmer interactions have been impressive as witnessed firsthand by our team in the farming communities visited over the summer. It’s an honor to have the opportunity to be involved in such a rewarding and challenging project as this; one in which we can personally witness the difference made in the lives of families and entire communities.
What is guar?
Guar is a drought-resistant legume which is grown in arid and semi-arid areas such as those found in Rajasthan. Around 80% of the world supply of guar comes from India, with Rajasthan alone accounting for approximately 70% of India’s production. In this area, guar is sown in July to coincide with the monsoon rains. The legume is typically harvested just three months later. Guar adds nitrogen to the soil, making it an important part of the farmer’s regular crop rotation.
Once harvested, the guar seed is milled, and screened to obtain guar gum, a polysaccharide. This water-soluble polymer makes up around 35% of the bean. The remaining guar mill is used for cattle feed.
Guar gum is used in haircare for its thickening and conditioning properties. But it is also used in food applications such ice-cream production, and industrial applications including oil-shale mining. The wide range of uses for this remarkable bean are driving global demand for guar.