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Measuring the livelihood impact on Unilever’s smallholder farmers

Unilever has piloted a livelihoods measurement assessment tool to gauge the impact we are having on the hundreds of smallholder farmers we're committed to helping achieve better livelihoods.

Smallholder Livelihoods Assessment

With our sustainable sourcing programme well underway, Unilever wants to understand how farmers are benefitting from efforts to improve their agricultural practices and living conditions. Key to understanding this impact is being able to measure any changes.

Unilever’s newly piloted tool, The Smallholder Livelihoods Assessment, has been designed with inspiration and guidance from the Sustainable Food Lab (SFL), the Committee on Sustainability Assessment, ISEAL and the Rainforest Alliance. It aims to understand what impact Unilever’s agricultural training and funding is having on the livelihoods of the smallholder farmers who receive it, so that positive work can be leveraged and areas for improvement can be addressed.

This support forms part of Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan, in which Unilever has committed to engage with at least 500,000 smallholder farmers and 75,000 small-scale distributors in our supply network by 2020. Unilever works with suppliers to help smallholder farmers improve their agricultural practices and thus enable them to become more competitive. By doing so, it will improve the quality of their livelihoods. But key to being able to understand what positive effect our relationship is having is being able to measure impact.

Measuring impact

Unilever’s assessment approach comes in the form of a survey, which uses elements from other best practice surveys and metric assessments to ensure credibility, affordability and scalability.

This Smallholder Performance Measurement Survey (PDF | 443KB) is used to assess the impact of our projects. With small adaptations for crop and country it can be used for any project we are running around the world and gives a consistent set of measures including yield, adoption of best agricultural practice and income that can track the progress of our programme.

The first assessments have been carried out among Kenyan smallholder tea farmers from the Kenyan Tea Development Agency. Surveys have also been carried out with Unilever’s Malagasy vanilla farmers in Madagascar and Indonesian black soybean growers.

Unilever’s Global Director for Sustainable Sourcing Development, Jan Kees Vis, says measuring livelihood is a complex process. “Livelihood, like sustainability, covers a wide range of issues, and there are many methodologies for assessing impact. But some are prohibitively expensive and are therefore not suitable for regular use with a large number of often geographically dispersed smallholders. Others are too narrow to sufficiently cover the range of issues where we’re likely to have an impact.”

One of the key themes we look at in this assessment tool is the role of women farmers. Our analysis has led us to formulate questions we believe will produce the right type of data to assess the challenges and successes women farmers face over the coming years. 

As part of our assessment, we are also looking at the role women smallholder farmers have in household decision-making such as spending and education. We will now look at other themes and will report on them as the programme evolves.

This tool is designed to give Unilever real and tangible data to work with, so teams can make the right assessments and recommendations for the future.

A scalable solution

The assessment data from the pilot tests in Kenya, Madagascar and Indonesia is currently being analysed and, once results are in, they’ll be used to help refine the assessment tool so it can be applied to two further pilot sites in a bid to canvass a wide range of different crop growers and geographies.

Once the findings from the second pilot are in, any further necessary improvements will be applied to the tool before it’s rolled out to the more than 500,000 smallholder farmers in Unilever’s supply chain.

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