At Ben & Jerry’s, we’re committed to the concept of what we call “linked prosperity”, the goal of sharing our success with everyone that helps make our ice cream. We also believe in taking action on climate justice, recognizing that the worst impacts of climate change are being unequally born on the backs of the world’s poorer and developing communities. To get these dual missions accomplished, we started the Ben & Jerry’s Fairtrade Producer Development Initiative (PDI), which aims to promote Ben & Jerry’s linked prosperity business model through our value chain— starting with supporting our farming communities around the globe.
What’s that got to do with vanilla, an ingredient that’s such a staple anyone could be forgiven for taking it for granted? As it turns out, vanilla is less of a commodity than we think. The crop requires a protected and stable environment to flourish— and in the tropical regions where it’s grown, climate change is leading to more and more extreme weather and storms. Add in rampant deforestation, which hampers this shade-loving crop. Then apply those impacts to vanilla growers that rely on a successful crop to keep them out of poverty, and you’ve got the definition of climate justice.
Recognizing that farmers in developing countries are the most vulnerable to climate change, and the least responsible for the causes, the PDI strives to support farmers in building climate resilience. The PDI’s 3-pronged approach to improving farmer livelihoods catalyzes entrepreneurial capabilities through direct field interventions; spurs innovative trading relationships; and influences industry towards positive change.
So when the opportunity came up to partner with PUR Projet on a Ben & Jerry’s Producer Development Initiative to establish agroforestry in Uganda, we were pretty excited. As its name suggests, agroforestry pairs agricultural and forestry practices— offering vanilla growers a more diverse, productive, profitable, healthy, and sustainable model of land-use, with benefits that just seem to, ahem, grow and grow.
Beyond Offsetting to Adaptation
"The Global North— all of us up here in the industrialized countries— is producing tremendous amounts of greenhouse gases that are affecting the Global South, where there is a heavy reliance on agriculture as their means for survival," explains Andrea Asch, Ben & Jerry’s Manager of Natural Resources. "And vanilla has been heavily impacted by deforestation and heavily impacted by climate change."
Re-planting trees in rainforest regions has been one way to combat global climate change. Rainforests have been called the lungs of the world, and that moniker is apt— especially because they are breathing in the CO2 that’s causing the climate to heat up. Mitigating climate change is the first step, but in the meantime, the effect of CO2 we’ve already emitted is already hurting regions where a successful growing season can literally be the difference between seeing a doctor or getting sick. Fairtrade farmers like our vanilla growers are already reporting that climate change is their largest concern. With shifting rainfall patterns, delayed planting season and other negative impacts on the rise, they are spending more and more of their Fairtrade premiums on climate change mitigation efforts.
From our first project in Peru, we learned that agroforestry can make a big difference in mitigating climate change— between 2011 and 2012, the 39,603 trees we helped plant equaled removing 85,118 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. But even better, agroforestry creates a more robust, diverse and healthy growing environment— and that is the best place to start adapting to agriculture in the age of climate change.
Interconnected Benefits That Grow and Grow
The PDI’s agroforestry initiative takes a holistic approach that goes beyond just carbon sequestration. For example, vanilla growers in regions like Uganda typically monocrop— growing just one crop on the land— which makes them especially vulnerable to facing no income and starvation when that single crop fails.
Besides environmental benefits including soil preservation and increasing biodiversity, planting indigenous trees also expands community food sources through fruit and additional income through timber revenue. Planting those trees in the vanilla fields provides vanilla vines much needed shade, supporting higher quality vanilla, boosting economic opportunities for the farmers, and provide a profitable secondary crop that will provide bridge income when vanilla alone isn’t enough.
"Agroforestry takes a holistic approach to maximizing interconnected benefits for the farmer and their whole ecosystem," explains Cheryl Pinto, Ben & Jerry’s Global Values Led Sourcing Manager. "And because the farmers and villagers are doing the planting and monitoring themselves, there is deeper community buy-in and ownership of the project, which strengthens the network of the local community." In Peru, where 384,195 hectares of forest have been preserved as of February 2015, the goal was to give these farming communities the chance to manage their environment and conserve their land. Agroforestry has been so successful in Peru that we’re now getting involved in more projects in Uganda.
"Our vanilla growers are integral to our success," says Asch, "we’re not just handing them a check, but fundamentally helping them stabilize their regional economies. This initiative really feeds into our goal of linked prosperity— that as we flourish, so should those who support us."