Chicago — Aiming to lift productivity of mint farms in India, where 80 percent of the world’s supply is produced, Mars Wrigley Confectionery teamed with Agribusiness Systems International (ASI) to develop a sustainability program — AdvanceMint — to improve soil health and lower water consumption in growing regions.
In its first year, the program trained more than 2,600 farmers in 68 villages, increasing their yield by an average of 68 percent, while cutting growers input costs 23 percent, according to Kim Frankovich, vice-president of sustainability for Mars Wrigley.
AdvanceMint — known as Shubh Mint in India — has the goal of reaching more than
20,000 smallholder farms. In addition to India, the program covers all regions where the company sources the ingredient, including the U.S. and Canada. Mars Wrigley reports it uses mint in 65 percent of its products.
“To help more people and communities within our supply chain thrive, AdvanceMint has an aggressive target of doubling mint farmer incomes by 2021,” Frankovich tells CST. “Many smallholder mint farmers in India currently live below the $1.90 per day poverty line. They often grow staple crops to feed their families and plant mint in between for cash.”
“Access to high-quality plants, or stolons, has dramatically improved yields,” Ana Bilik, president of ASI, tells CST. “The plants developed by the Central Institute of Medicinal & Aromatic Plants — CIM-Kranthi and KOSI varieties — have high menthol content; produce significantly higher amounts of biomass, which leads to better yields; and are more resistant to pests and diseases.”
Through the program, farmers are introduced to a compendium of good agricultural practices, according to Bilik.
“These include soil testing, fertilizer use and application, and plant spacing and management,” she explains. “We’ve seen high adoption of the new plant varieties because farmers gets better oil yield than what they get from the local, mixed plant varieties available in the market.”
Lessons in plant spacing were so popular that even farmers not participating in the program picked up the practice, as they saw how well the the technique worked for their neighbors. “Ultimately, it reduces the amount of time associated with weeding, which is a major source of labor,” Bilik explains.
In line with labor reduction, many farmers have embraced organic mulching with paddy straw, which also reduces weeding time. Additionally, the practice increases soil moisture, in turn, reducing the need for frequent irrigation.
The program also improved how data from soil tests are leveraged.
“Soil testing isn’t necessarily a new practice, but seeing the results is,” Bilik tells CST. “In the past, farmers have received soil testing, but they did not have visibility or understanding of the results.”
She explains this lack of understanding resulted in many farmers using larger amounts of fertilizers than needed, which has a depleting effect on soil. AdvanceMint provides farmers with soil health cards after testing, helping them determine the best fertilizer to use.
Tied To Sustainable In A Generation
The mint-growing program is part of Mars, Inc.’s larger, billion-dollar Sustainable in a Generation plan, which sets specific targets for reducing the company’s environmental impact and improving the working lives of one million people in its value chain, according to Frankovich.
Among the big picture factors at play in the program is sustainable water use in the agricultural supply chain.
“Some of the areas in India that grow mint are currently, or could be in the future, under water stress,” she says. “Our Shubh Mint farmer training program, deployed by local partner ASI, educates farmers on the best times to water so they get the most out of every drop.”
While AdvanceMint is focused on one commodity, Frankovich tells CST the company is looking at how it can apply these lessons to other areas.
“We always look to leverage best practices across our entire value chain, and are certainly exploring what the AdvanceMint program can teach us for other crops and sourcing communities.”