Improving agrochemical management is one of IDH’s five impact themes. Responsible agrochemical management (RAM) programs are relevant to many of the Sustainable Development Goals, including good health and wellbeing; clean water and sanitation; life below water; and life on land.
RAM is a core issue for sustainable trade. Commodities that exceed the European Commission’s maximum residue levels (MRL) for agrochemicals cannot be traded and are therefore not profitable for farmers. By working to reduce agrochemical use, RAM acts directly on the MRL of commodities produced in emerging and developing economies. And by addressing the overuse of compounds considered dangerous or harmful to the environment, RAM is part of the landscape approach adopted by IDH and its partners in their programs.
IDH aims to train 3.9 million farmers/workers on responsible agrochemical management (approx. 6.4 million hectares). Of those, 2.8 million farmers (4.7 million hectares) are expected to improve their agrochemical management.
To accelerate learning on RAM, IDH has created a cross-sector impact focus based on six pillars:
- Building initiatives that target sector governance: convening the most relevant groups to talk about the issues and develop actionable strategies;
- Designing interventions that increase profitability in the sector;
- Safeguarding and improving worker/farmer safety;
- Ensuring and improving food safety in traded commodities;
- Reduced ecosystem impact;
- Creating market access for farmers, smallholders, and small producers.
The core of the learning agenda on RAM is how to address agrochemical usage problems across multiple sectors, by leveraging agrochemical management expertise in a way that cuts across industries.
Towards safer produce: globally and locally
Food-safety concerns abound in developing countries like India and Vietnam. Lack of education and a trend for promoting proprietary agrochemical products can result in farmers over-applying generic agrochemicals for fear that their crops will fail if they don’t. In high-value sectors like pepper, where a small reduction in yield can mean a big reduction in profit, the pressure to overspray is even higher. The high residue level on these crops, however, makes them saleable only in the domestic market—an effect with problematic consequences. Not only can farmers lose out on European and global market access and the chance to increase the profitability of their plantation or smallholding, but the domestic food market is also flooded with unsafe products.
You start to see that things are the same across different crops. And you wonder: is it the best way to address this, sector by sector? It makes more sense to deal with the problem in a more focused way. And then you begin to see the sectors in a different light.
IDH looks at RAM through three lenses: sector governance, field-level sustainability, and business practice. Interventions and innovations in governance terms are aimed at improving policies, protocols, and standards and, in some cases, applying them through a (data-driven) system of monitoring and enforcement. At field level, training focuses on achieving the adoption of better practices and improving record keeping in order to drive better data. And through the business lens, RAM programs look at ways to increase private-sector demand for sustainable produce, leveraging the commitment of business players to increase access to finance and better agrochemical products.
By developing efficient, MRL-focused programs that allow farmers to sell their produce into the European and global market, IDH and its partners are able to raise profitability in the produce sectors, improve health and safety, reduce soil and groundwater toxicity, lessen negative impact on biodiversity, and improve food safety in domestic markets.
Scoring floriculture in Vietnam, India, and Ethiopia
Data collection and interpretation are the fundamental driving forces behind innovation. RAM enforcement teams can use data to best distribute their publications: for example, in sending inspection teams to problematic areas more regularly. Governments may use the same data to get a realistic picture of production. Financial institutions can find out how stable and reliable a farmer is before they provide access to money. And traders can relay information to roasters to prove compliance or progress, for example.
Data opens up new doors. You can use data for anything. The question is: how do you develop a digital solution that allows the farmer to use different IT tools that can be plugged into that system?
In Ethiopia, an organization called More Profitable Sustainability (MPS) scores flower production against a number of different factors, including water use, energy use, and agrochemical use. The safer and more efficient the production methodology, the higher the score: a product with low levels of toxicity achieves an A or an A plus, which creates a market demand for flowers with low toxic loads. With powerful systems in place for managing this data, it can be used by MPS to measure progress in a meaningful way. Certification provides some benefits: but the ability to show—with hard data—that you have been using less pesticide is a powerful message.
The Vietnamese agrochemical taskforce: accelerating interventions across sectors
In Vietnam, an agrochemical taskforce has been co- established by IDH to solve problems with agrochemical management.” to “In Vietnam, an agrochemical taskforce has been co- established by IDH to solve problems with agrochemical management, after a meeting in September 2015 of the Partnership for Sustainable Agriculture in Vietnam (PSAV).
Total localism, however, would ignore the potential for cross-sector and cross-geography learning.
By creating a problem-solving body that exists outside of any sector, RAM knowledge is rapidly applied wherever it is needed. Tools that have worked in tea, coffee, pepper, and so on, can be brought to bear on problems in floriculture or aquaculture. The taskforce searches for solutions to the specific problems brought to its attention by each sector, and jurisdiction is built around these solutions in the Vietnamese Central Highlands, through the IDH landscape program.
Local knowledge, global gains: tailoring programs to create successful interventions
To maximize the effectiveness of the different RAM tools, and to innovate on new RAM solutions, it is important to be both industry- and geography-specific. Local knowledge—like understanding that the Vietnamese pepper industry is prone to continuous spraying because of the value of the crop—allows focused interventions to be made by IDH.
In Vietnam, demonstration plots are being used by IDH (in partnership with McCormick) to educate farmers on better agrochemical practices.” to “In Vietnam, demonstration plots will be used by IDH (in partnership with McCormick) to educate farmers on better agrochemical practices.
A RAM program in Ethiopia—a country in which the flower sector is driven by large companies—is considering the use of biological pest control (worms, insects, and other organisms) in floriculture. By demonstrating the effectiveness of using biological pest control to these influential companies, IDH aims to create market demand that accelerates uptake. An understanding of the local sector is important when focusing on the companies that influence the Ethiopian market. But once the concept has been proven, it is possible to create a model that can be exported to other sectors.
Moving the mechanism from one sector to another
The cotton sector, for example, faces many challenges when it comes to agrochemical management; and yet it is also the easiest sector in which to intervene. BCI’s continuous improvement model has proven to be a powerful tool in bringing down pesticide usage. On average, BCI cotton farmers in IDH-supported geographies use less pesticide than conventional cotton farmers. Investment is all that is needed—to train millions of farmers to use fewer agrochemicals, and to show those farmers that they will make more money in the process.
The future of RAM programs lies in creating the ability to move mechanisms like the cotton program into more complex and fragmentary sectors: spices, for example. The challenge, moving forward, is to encourage the stakeholders in those areas to adapt the approaches to their needs.
Making it profitable to do the right thing
IDH RAM programs in aquaculture are beginning to demonstrate that the provision of data can help increase profit. In aquaculture, certification represents a cost to the producer that cannot easily be justified (given the majority of global fish markets do not reward certification). If, however, the data required for certification purposes is linked to expertise, which can be used to feed back to fish farmers and raise their production levels, then the business case for certification becomes much stronger.
The leverage is around the question: how can the whole system make more money by doing the right thing?
In an effort to move this data-driven approach to the next level, IDH has begun talks with the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP), and GLOBAL G.A.P. By leveraging the power, influence, and data of these organizations, RAM programs will have the potential to make it profitable for farmers to become certified, and to comply with protocols on RAM.