Strategic collaboration with supplier Symrise benefits smallholder farmers in Madagascar

How our collaboration with Symrise delivers benefits for Madagascan smallholders.

Unilever has chosen to work with Symrise both because of their commercial competitiveness, and, importantly, because of their focus on Sustainable Sourcing. Within that focus, Symrise has been working to integrate a co-operative of 6,000 Madagascan farmers into their sourcing structure since 2006. Today, Madagascar remains the world’s leading producer of vanilla.

Sustainable sourcing

We started working with Symrise to develop a sustainable sourcing programme for vanilla in 2011. We primarily use vanilla in our Ice Cream business and our mutual goal is to maximise the synergy between their sustainable cultivation practices in Madagascar and our goal to sustainably source vanilla for the business.

The sustainable cultivation programme started with 1,100 farmers who have now been trained and guided for more than a year. We’re delighted that all of them achieved RFA certified status for their sustainable cultivation practices in 2012. Thanks to the efforts of the farmers and the team supporting them on the ground, the first 25 tons of Rainforest Alliance certified beans (approx. 30% of our global Vanilla bean requirement) are now available. After curing and processing they’ll be used in our Ice Cream products.

Engaging directly with farmers

The key factor in working with Symrise on this programme is that they are the sole vanilla dealer working directly with farmers in Madagascar. This direct link allows Unilever to integrate the smallholder farmers into our vanilla supply chain so that we can track and influence every stage of the process - from the field to the end consumer.

Symrise’s team on the ground train farmers in sustainable agriculture best practices that help them preserve the extremely biodiversity-rich Malgasy environment from further deforestation or practices that damage wildlife. In parallel, they work with farmers to eliminate the use of child labour in the fields.

Teaching farmers how to diversify their incomes

In Madagascar, cash crops are a vital source of cash income for farmers to support their families. Unilever is partnering with Symrise to support the education of those involved in our vanilla supply chain and teach them about crop diversification. This means facilitating education in agriculture by establishing professional schools for the adolescent rural population.

Part of this effort in changing working practices focuses on teaching farmers to find and implement alternative sources of income. In the past year we’ve worked with a number of farming groups – and especially with women - to cultivate other saleable crops, notably rice, cocoa and coffee. We’ve also helped some farmers set up vanilla plant nurseries, with the aim not only to have an alternative source of income for the family, but also to grow the proper planting material leading to higher yields and better beans quality that will benefit the whole local community.

The Symrise and Unilever partnership is also helping to combat land clearing by identifying non rain forest land available for community use to be brought into cultivation. These plots are used as “model farms” to train farmers in techniques that prevent soil erosion, improve soil fertility and demonstrate the benefits of crop rotation which can be mirrored on their own small-scale farms.

Sustainable cultivation in action: crop and bio-diversity mapping

Creating accurate individual farm and community maps is one of the most important elements of the Symrise Sustainable Sourcing programme. The maps are initially drawn up by the local farmers in community-based workshops and are then verified and geo-localized using GPS by Symrise’s internal controllers.

The maps clearly identify water sources and courses, areas of sensitive plant and animal biodiversity and monitor vanilla specific data (number of plants per farmer, acreage, yields, etc). They often give farmers an accurate picture of their land holding for the first time, and are vital in both defining where the best areas to cultivate are, and also other areas that need to be managed sensitively to enhance the environment.

Clemens Tenge, Director Corporate Communications, said: "Unilever's clear, forward-looking and also long-term commitment to 100 percent sustainable vanilla sourcing enables us at Symrise to strive towards our own sustainability targets as well as to contribute to Unilever's Sustainable Living Plan. Our joint efforts of enhancing Madagascan smallholders' livelihoods represent a step-change for the vanilla farmers, their communities and environment - and at the same time they also have a significant impact on the way Unilever and Symrise are doing business together. We jointly develop our business as true partners and create value for all stakeholders involved."

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