General Mills Initiative Helps Vanilla Farmers in Madagascar

Haagen-DazsGeneral Mills announced a new initiative today to help vanilla farmers in Madagascar. The global food giant is investing $125,000 over two years to help villages in Madagascar’s Sava region, where the global food company sources high-quality vanilla for its Häagen-Dazs ice cream. Madagascar is the world’s leading vanilla producer, responsible for over 80 percent of the world’s production. The company will partner with vanilla supplier Virginia Dare and the international humanitarian organization CARE to promote sustainable vanilla farming in Madagascar. Through the program, several hundred vanilla farmers will be trained and educated on how to produce a higher quality vanilla crop that is more sustainable. The program will also build vanilla curing and storage facilities.

“Contributing to the viability and sustainability of vanilla farming could have a significant impact on the lives of Malagasy growers, their communities, and the environment,” Steve Peterson, director of sourcing sustainability at General Mills, said.

Peterson added that vanilla “is the way of life for these people.” Through sharing their “supply chain expertise, while leveraging our financial resources,” General Mills can help create a higher-quality, more sustainable vanilla supply, while increasing the vanilla farmers’ living standards.

General Mills has a sustainable sourcing plan, and the sustainable vanilla sourcing program is part of the plan. In 2011, General Mills completed a global assessment of the ingredients and materials it sources, and developed a global sustainable sourcing model. The company prioritized 10 ingredients, of which vanilla is one, where it can achieve the most impacts.

The sustainable vanilla sourcing program is also just one of other programs that benefit smallholder farmers. In Mexico, General Mills’ Green Giant team works with broccoli and cauliflower farmers to encourage them to use drip irrigation, which greatly reduces water use. The company provides interest-free loans to the farmers to buy drip irrigation equipment in the Irapauto region of Mexico. Through the program, General Mills estimates that 1.1 billion gallons of water are saved.

General Mills has another program to help smallholder farmers in Mexico. The company’s 2012 CSR report details how General Mills helped farmers in central Mexico use organic compost from nearby chicken farms instead of synthetic fertilizer to spread on broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and celery. The organic chicken manure was used on about 4,000 acres in 2011, an increase from 250 acres in 2009. Switching from synthetic fertilizer to organic chicken manure reduces greenhouse gas emissions by about 12,000 tons a year, which is equivalent to taking 2,000 vehicles off the road. It is also cheaper, helps retain soil moisture so less water is used, and increases the yield by about three percent, on average.

The vanilla sustainable sourcing program is also not the partnership with CARE International. In Malawi, General Mills and CARE International partnered with Merck on the Join My Village program. The program has 350 village-based savings and loan associations which have administered over 3,000 small business loans to help women and families that are involved in agriculture in Malawi.

In addition to its sustainable sourcing plan, General Mills has environmental initiatives, including renting out the rooftop of its plant in Spain to MB Solar. A total of 4,500 solar panels were installed on the rooftop.

[Image credit: Flickr user, CesarCardoso]

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.