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Training Farmers in India

well earthOn a sourcing trip to India in February 2009, Commodity Manager Kai Stark and VP of Sustainability Kathy Larson visited a farmer group in the state of Kerala that is a Well Earth® supplier of organic black and white pepper and turmeric. The supplier is actively engaged in the social and economic development of people in the region through initiatives in sustainable agriculture, the promotion of indigenous medicines, assistance to women and children, and community health and sanitation.

The farmer group brings together hundreds of small farms in the state of Keral, many less than a hectare (2.5 acres) and perched on steep slopes, rugged hillsides and tiny valleys. Kai and Kathy noted the intense, yet sustainable, style of agriculture practiced as they visited the small family farms. Pepper plants are heavily intercropped with turmeric and ginger to maximize the use of the organically enhanced soil.

Well Earth Training FarmersTo foster organic agriculture, the group established a training center — complete with a biological control and pest management lab as well as composting and vermiculture demonstration areas — which they use to educate farmers about organic and sustainable farming methods. However, because many of the farms are located long distances from the center, and travel is often difficult, numerous farmers were unable to attend training.

To help address this problem, Frontier's Simply Organic 1% fund (SO1%) provided a grant of nearly $30,000 to bring all 790 farmers to the center for a day of intensive training. The group demonstrated its commitment to improving the region's organic farming methods by coordinating travel and implementing the 45 sessions required to train all of the farmers. Each farmer received a Well Earth bag containing vermiculture starter kits, as well as an assortment of biological controls for various pests and diseases to take back to their farm.

Also invited to the training were members of the Kerala state and local governments, many of whom attended so they could get a better understanding of organic agriculture and its benefits. The response was positive, and additional governmental support of organic agriculture in the region is expected.

Well Earth Training Farmers

Both Kai and Kathy were impressed with the quality and depth of the training and the farmers' appreciation of the opportunity to increase their knowledge. The training project is in perfect keeping with the goals of SO1% fund and Frontier's Well Earth sourcing program -- developing sustainable sources for the products we offer and supporting farmers around the world who are committed to sustainable and organic agricultural practices.

We're inspired by the spirit of cooperation among our Well Earth partners. For example, when the training in Kerala came in under budget by a few hundred dollars, we were able to also donate a weed eater to a farmer from each of two groups. In turn, these farmers will assist other farmers in their group with weed control.

Kathy has spoken at numerous conferences and events both here in the U.S. and in Europe about Well Earth and Frontier's overall sustainability program. "Everyone I talk to is impressed with the breadth of the program and its far-reaching goals," she says. "It's rewarding to be able to share our story with customers, the industry, and representatives of governments and organizations." But for her, she says, the greatest reward has been visiting southern India, meeting Well Earth farmers and seeing the benefit of Well Earth partnerships first hand.

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