More sustainable farming practices lead to higher yields, better quality and cost savings for farmers. This is one of the key outcomes of project Farm Gate 2.0, aimed at helping smallholder mango farmers in Ratnagiri and Konkan India produce more sustainably. Training and access to technical knowledge and equipment appear to be key factors for a sustainable transformation, but challenges remain with regards to unfavorable weather conditions as well as a traditional mindset among farmers and the market access through aggregators, the so-called mandis.
India is the world’s largest mango producer (accounting for 60% of mango volume) with a growing sustainability agenda. To help 100+ smallholder mango farmers in the region of Ratnagiri in Konkan India to achieve FSA Silver verification for their Alphonso mangoes and to accelerate responsible sourcing in the region, project Farm Gate 2.0 was initiated in 2021 and ran over the course of two years.
Dutch fruit juice producer Riedel (a.o. Appelsientje and CoolBest), and one of the members of the Sustainable Juice Covenant (SJC), spearheaded the project in close collaboration with Indian food processor Foods & Inns (F&I). The ambition to promote sustainable mango farming practices is part of the commitment of the SJC to achieve 100% sustainable juice volumes by 2030.
Farmers eager to learn how to improve their farming practices
“The focus of the project was on addressing environmental issues associated with mango farming, such as climate impact, soil and pesticide management and crop traceability as well as social aspects such as a better income and the role of women in farming”, says Piet Haasen, Research & Development Manager at Riedel.
As part of the project, the mango farmers were trained face-to-face and gained technical knowledge with regards to for example intercropping (black pepper & banana), pest management, composting and soil and water conservation. Useful assets were provided for use on the mango fields, such as crates, modern pruning and harvesting equipment and fly traps.
In total, 130 smallholder farmers participated in the project and ultimately achieved FSA Silver certification for their mangoes. Based on more sustainable farming practices and better market access, they were able to improve the product quality and increase their yield by 5.8% and their revenue by 15%. “These are remarkable results given the fact that the region was hit by exceptional cyclone weather in 2022. The real impact of the adoption of these sustainable practices will probably play out even more in the coming years”, explains Piet Haasen. Another focus area within Farm Gate 2.0 was the improvement of the sanitary conditions on farm, for example by installing sanitary facilities for women.
Navigating challenging climate conditions, a traditional mindset and remote rural areas
Despite the promising results achieved by Farm Gate 2.0, the outcome was lower than expected. Unfavorable climate conditions such as excessive heat, heavy rainfalls and cyclones affected the harvest: farmers battled with damaged crop, pest infestation and lower productivity what ultimately led to heavy income loss and a delay of the project. Progress was also hindered by the fact that a lot of farms are located in remote rural areas that are difficult to access. “Due to fragmented land holdings, reaching the farms can be challenging and requires a lot of time and resources, coupled with a quite conservative mindset among farmers. They tend to be skeptical when it comes to new approaches and often hesitate to share details regarding their farming practices. Training therefore requires a lot of face-to-face time and engagement”, says Ameya Dhupelia from F&I.
Another important factor is the fact that market access in India is based on the mandi system: The pricing is largely controlled through the mandis, the established middlemen and “orchestrators” who organize the movement of produce from farm to processor. As a consequence, the farmers’ revenues usually are not as high as they could be. Due to the lack of math and science knowledge, farmers are usually price takers and not makers.
New horizons: shaping market mechanisms and focusing on training and technology
Moving forward, F&I will be investigating alternative contracting modalities and the possibility to provide profit and loss training to farmers. Further, F&I aims to change the traditional setup by creating a new mechanism for market access that involves and aligns farmers, mandis and processors. The objective is to empower farmers through sustainable farming practices along with higher farmgate prices for sustainable products that are sourced from these farmsThe mandis on the other hand get access to additional brokerage and the processors benefit from sustainably certified and traceable produce. This would create a win-win situation for all involved parties. To get farmers and mandis on board, F&I will liaise more extensively with local government.
With regards to technologies and training on the ground, F&I will focus on scaling up training and reaching a greater audience through digitization and gamification of training materials. Another objective is to increase the availability of precision farming technology for a better understanding of factors such as climate sequestration, biodiversity, soil health and water resources for farm productivity and traceability technology to optimize the value chain from farm to farm.
 India accounts for more than 60% of the world’s mango cultivation. A very popular and high-level variety is the “Alphonso” mango which is grown mainly in Western India. This type of mango is at the centre of project Farm Gate 2.0.
About Foods & Inns (F&I)
F&I is India’s second largest food processor and exporter with eight plants that jointly procure over 120,000 metric tonnes of fruit, vegetable and spices annually. F&I has been supplying processed Indian mango for over 45 years and has been working with Riedel for over 15 years. The company’s expertise lies in backward integration whilst adding value to food products which are supplied around the world. More info: https://www.foodsandinns.com/
Riedel is one of the leading producers of fruit juices in the Netherlands and member of the Sustainable Juice Covenant. The company specializes in the production and distribution of long-life and refrigerated fruit juices and fruit drinks under the brands of Appelsientje, CoolBest, DubbelFrisss, DubbelDrank, Healthy People, Van de Boom, Taksi and Extran. More info: https://www.riedel.nl
About the Sustainable Juice Covenant
The Sustainable Juice Covenant (SJC) is an international platform of leading companies – such as producers, processors, traders, brands and retailers – within the juice sector. SJC’s members are looking to drive sustainable change and to improve juice supply chains across the globe. Together, they have committed to a target of 100% sustainable sourcing by 2030. The SJC is coordinated by IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative. The Covenant presents a platform for members to collaborate, engage, exchange knowledge, and share learnings on critical sustainability issues to work on solutions that support the sustainable transition and help future-proof the juice sector. More info: http://www.sjc2030.com