Mars Food has said that all of the basmati rice sold under its Uncle Ben’s and Seeds of Change brands will now be sourced from farmers who are working towards the Sustainable Rice Platform’s (SRP) standard for sustainable rice.
SRP is an initiative co-convened by UN Environment and the International Rice Research Institute, aimed at developing a global standard for sustainable rice cultivation.
Mars will work with its basmati rice growers in India and Pakistan to ensure that the company can trace its rice from field to fork. It will also work with suppliers and partners – including the International Rice Research Institute, World Wildlife Fund and Helvetas – to share with farmers ways of improving water efficiency, reducing and safely managing their use of fertilisers and pesticides, and improving health and safety.
A 2016 pilot project to test SRP technologies in Pakistan demonstrated an 8% increase in yield, 30% reduction in water, and 32% increase in net income.
The achievement is the first step in Mars’ goal to source all of its rice from SRP farmers by 2020 – a target first announced two years ago – and follows a commitment from the food giant to invest $1 billion in tackling urgent global issues like climate change and poverty.
That plan – called Sustainable in a Generation – was unveiled earlier this month by CEO Grant Reid, who likened the global food supply chain to ‘a broken engine’ that needs fixing.
Irshad Ahmad Dogar, a Mars rice farmer who works with the company’s local partner in Pakistan, said the pilot has substantially reduced the cost of farming and increased his income. “I can now make sure my children get better education and schooling. Our children getting education and becoming responsible citizens of society makes my family happy.”
Luc Beerens, global sustainable sourcing director for Mars Food, said: “We’ve shown that sustainable rice can sustain a farmer’s livelihood. These innovations, if adopted throughout the industry, could fundamentally shift how rice is grown today, helping to protect the environment, lift farmers out of poverty, and meet future demand worldwide.”
Facts on rice production
Almost 20% of the world’s population is employed in rice production yet traditional rice production methods use 40% of all irrigation water and accounts for up to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. With the number of people on the planet increasing by around 80 million a year, the need to improve the sustainability of the rice supply is increasingly clear.
Mars has worked since 2013 through SRP to develop a global standard for sustainable rice that it can use to map its supply chain, identify gaps, and drive improvements. In addition to mapping against the 46 performance indicators of the SRP, the company said it is going further by investing in programmes to address human rights and women’s empowerment in its rice supply chains.
For example, the company’s female empowerment programme provides mobile health clinics in Pakistan. In India, the programme is facilitating a qualitative study on gender roles in the rice supply chain to develop new initiatives aimed at improving girls’ education and diversifying incomes in rice communities.
Mars’ Sustainable in a Generation ambition is focused on three key areas: healthy planet, thriving people, and nourishing wellbeing.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2019