Developing innovative training programmes for smallholder gherkin farmers in India

Unilever is working with Marcatus QED – a global sourcing and supply chain solutions company - to implement an innovative Responsible Farming Programme with rural gherkin farmers in India. The programme, which will work with around 10,000 smallholder farmers, aims to increase productivity, develop best practices and improve livelihoods. It incorporates several intersecting projects focused on improving: mobile field officer and farmer education; climate smart agricultural practices; and farmer family nutrition and hygiene.

Mobile field officer and farmer education

Access to agronomy experts, modern training tools and up-to-date information on best practices is an ongoing challenge for smallholder farmers in rural communities.

The Marcatus Mobile Education Platform (MMEP) is an innovative multi-pronged approach to training smallholder farmers in rural regions. It is the first project to receive funding by the Enhancing Livelihoods Fund – set up jointly between Unilever, Oxfam, and Ford Foundation - to support innovative projects that have a positive economic impact and empower women. The MMEP combines the know-how of over 50 industry experts from more than 20 organisations and uses simple video technology to share knowledge with farmer groups. The programme aims to reach over 2,000 villages in the next three years.

Working with the NGO Digital Green, local field teams are taught how to create simple videos, which feature local farmers demonstrating sustainable agricultural practices, such as composting and drip irrigation. Field officers also receive training on how to form farmer groups, encourage women to attend skills development sessions, and use cost-effective digital technologies - such as pico projectors and tablets - to teach these practices.

Where literacy rates are low, especially among women, using videos to educate is very powerful. The videos convey a consistent message in a quick and visual manner, and feature local people using local tools and speaking the local language. Following a Smallholder Livelihoods Assessment, it was discovered that 88% of traditional farmer training sessions were solely attended by men, even though women do more than half of all farm work. Since launching the MMEP, women now outnumber men at most of the sessions.

Climate smart agriculture

Monsoon rains combined with acute water shortages means farmers are vulnerable to climate change and struggle with declining yields, an exhausted water table and eroding soil fertility. We are helping farmers implement drip irrigation and learn about composting to improve soil fertility. Through these sustainable agricultural practices, farmers can improve their yield and crop quality, and increase their income.

More information can be found here

Farmer family nutrition and hygiene

We have also partnered with the Global Alliance of Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and Marcatus QED to develop a behavioural change program called Seeds of Prosperity ‘ - aiming to improve the dietary diversity of smallholder farmers and also improve their hygiene behaviours through our Lifebuoy handwashing programme.

Farmers and their families are informed about the importance of a diverse diet and are asked to pledge their commitment to eating at least five of the ten identified food groups and to wash their hands on five specific occasions throughout the day. Communication tools, such as calendars and games, are used to encourage the new behaviour. To help families access a diverse range of nutritious foods, they are provided with an array of local vegetable seeds and taught how to plant and maintain their own kitchen gardens.

See the Seeds of Prosperity campaign in action.

By supporting Marcatus QED’s Responsible Farming Programme, we are positively changing the lives of thousands of farmers in India, and making gherkin farming more environmentally and socially sustainable.

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