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Improving the nutrition and hygiene of smallholder farmers


After a successful pilot of the Seeds of Prosperity programme, we now want to bring more suppliers on board to reach 2.5 million people and strengthen their most important crop: family.

Improving the nutrition and hygiene of smallholder farmers

From India to Kenya and Malawi, and beyond

The Seeds of Prosperity programme is a partnership between Unilever, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH). Together, we are working through commodity supply chains to improve the diets and hygiene of smallholder farmers.

A successful pilot has reached 2,600 farmers in Tamil Nadu, India, and the programme will now be replicated in tea farming communities in Assam as well as Kenya and Malawi, benefiting a further 300,000 people. The next step is to bring other suppliers on board to significantly extend its reach.

The health and hygiene challenge

Globally, there are around 500 million small-scale farmers who rely on family plots of land for their food production. Although small-scale farmers manage 80% of farmland in Asia and Africa, they often sell their most nutritious foods, and eat monotonous diets including starchy foods such as rice, bread and wheat. These are inexpensive and filling, but lack micronutrients such as iron, Vitamin A and zinc, which are essential for good health.

Poor hygiene is also a major challenge, with diarrhoea the second biggest killer of children under five years old. Simply washing hands with soap could reduce the number of diarrhoea cases by up to 47%, but many people are not aware of the link between hygiene and health.

The Seeds of Prosperity programme promotes the importance of nutritious foods, a diverse diet and handwashing with soap. Families are also given the means to grow their own kitchen gardens.

Positive results all round

Women who participated in the pilot reported a 41% increase in the variety of foods consumed, almost double the 24% increase in women who did not take part. There was also a 41% increase in the number of households that grew vegetables in their gardens. The hygiene component saw 78% of growers washing their hands before lunch daily, compared to 51% who did not participate.

In addition, 98% of participants said the programme was likely to positively affect their decision to stay with the tea estate or factory. Personal perspectives also suggested that the programme reduced absenteeism and healthcare costs, and increased loyalty to their tea factories/suppliers.

More than just a moral responsibility

Along with our partners, we are now looking to significantly expand the programme, outlining the compelling reasons why businesses should get involved and help build healthy communities.

As Katja Freiwald, Unilever’s Director of Global Partnerships and Advocacy, says: “For Unilever, improving the health of the farmers in our value chain is a moral responsibility, but it also secures essential supplies, expands the market for our products, and increases the resilience of our business model.”

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