Encouraging better farming practices to boost yields

Helping chicory farmers in North India Implement sustainable agriculture practices has been instrumental in improving productivity and crop quality, as well as the health and safety of the farmers, their families and workers. These practices have led to higher yields and, in turn, higher incomes.

Better skills and a guaranteed market

Chicory root extract is used in the production of our Bru brand – which is sold almost exclusively in India. As Bru is the country’s best-loved coffee brand, we need high-quality supplies in large quantities.

Traditional methods of growing chicory often give poor yields, trapping farmers in a vicious cycle of low productivity and bad practices. To turn this around, we customised the Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code (USAC) to suit chicory farming, with input from experts in other root crops.

The programme we created builds the farmers’ skills and knowledge of good agricultural practices such as the best use of fertilisers and how to sow seeds to maintain optimal plant population. It also helps them better understand the importance of conserving scarce natural resources like water.

The farmers benefit from a guaranteed market and price for their crop. And since chicory is a crop that can grow alongside other crops, it is the ideal candidate for farmers to practice intercropping thus diversifying their incomes rather than relying on the traditional, and often risky, practice of monocropping.

Monocropping is where a single crop is grown year after year on the same land. Over time, this leaves the soil weak and unable to support healthy plant growth. Intercropping is where different crops are planted together. This helps suppress weeds (which extract valuable water and nutrients) and improves the crop’s resilience against pests and disease.

Measurable results

The programme currently covers six districts in Uttar Pradesh and three in Punjab, impacting around 2,000 small and marginal farmers, who have an average landholding of about 0.6 hectares. This has increased from around 1,300 famers in the 2017-18 cropping season.

Over the three years since first adopting sustainable practices, these farmers have reported 20% higher yields as well as a 30-40% reduction in water use. What’s more, they have seen a yield improvement of about 20% in their second crop, such as corn.

Mahavir Pachauri, a farmer in Horchi village, has seen his output grow by 50% in four years through better nutrient and water management. “USAC has encouraged me to keep records,” says Mahavir, “so I can track inputs and expenses, and identify areas for improvement. It has also helped me understand the risk to my family’s health of using empty fertiliser bags for storing food grains like wheat, rice and pulses.”

We are working through nine contractors/suppliers who are either enterprising farmers or small business owners. They enter into a contract with the farmers to provide farm-level value added services such as harvesting and drying.