Promotion of responsible soy in India leads to huge benefits

An impact study by the independent Indian consultancy MART shows that a three year producer support to soy smallholders in Madhya Pradesh, India organized by Solidaridad has been highly effective. The training of farmers and implementation of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) led to increased soy farm productivity of up to 54 percent resulting in higher income, especially for marginal farmers.

India is the fifth largest soy producer in the world and ranked fourth globally as exporter of soy (meal) in the world with 6-7 million small-scale soy farmers producing around 12-13 million tons of soy on 10-11 million hectares. Solidaridad and the implementing partners will expand the outreach of the soy program towards 75,000 farmers in 2015. Further engagement of soy value chain partners is one of the key issues in the new program.

The MART study (2009-2012) shows considerable environmental benefits, including less crop residue burning and tree planting on farm edges. Important social benefits include a dramatic increase in use of protection during pesticide spraying and higher numbers of farmers paying equal wages to men and women and a large reduction in child labor.

From 2009 to 2012 Solidaridad organized a large soy producer support program in 17 districts of the main soy producing state in Madhya Pradesh in India, involving 30,000 smallholder soy producers with an average land holding of 2.2 ha. A total of 7 implementing organizations, mostly non-governmental organisations (NGOs), organized field demonstrations and training for farmers using lead farmers (progressive farmers applying GAP). Institution building and group meetings were important activities in order to facilitate group certification using the Round Table of Responsible Soy (RTRS) standard and to facilitate the collective buying of inputs.

Success factors for the program

Important factors contributing to the success of the program were dedicated field staff and strong liaison with local government institutions of some of the NGOs involved. The lead farmer approach has been very successful in motivating farmers to adopt new practices. And group formation and meetings have caused farmers to be more empowered and conscious of their rights and duties.

Programme coordinator for soy at Solidaridad, Gert van der Bijl, says the results of the project are better than expected.

“We see that the production of soy can be done in a good way, with respect for the environment and that we really can help farmers and their families to improve their livelihoods.  We read many stories about the negative impact of soy production, but it is very reassuring that this study proves it can be done in a good way.”

Program achievements and partners

After 3 years of the program, the agricultural practices of the 30,000 participating farmers appear to have improved considerably. The improvements led to an average yield increase of up to 54 percent as a result of better seed spacing, seed treatment and the use of bio-fertilizers. Due to soil testing and use of bio-fertilizer, the amount of chemical fertilizer use also went down by an average 23 percent. Income from soy production, the largest source of income for these smallholders, has gone up more than two fold under the SOYPSI program, although a jump in income is partly attributed to increase in market prices over the years which are an external factor.

In addition to economic impact, considerable environmental and social benefits were observed in the study. These include more farmers planting trees on edges (from 33 to 81 percent) and a huge decrease in crop residue burning (from 79 percent to 5 percent of farmers). Farmers in the program expressed their elation for being part of the initiative, which resulted in considerable wages increases and equal compensation for men and women; and reduction of child labor from 53 percent to 17 percent.

According to the program evaluators there should be a continuation of efforts to promote responsible soy production in India and moreover to engage with value chain players, including processors and input suppliers

For further information, please contact:

Suresh Motwani, Soy Programme Coordinator for Solidaridad South and Southeast Asia

Gert van der Bijl, International Soy Programme Coordinator

(Participating NGOs are Action for Social Advancement (ASA), Indian Grameen Services / BASIX, Samarth Kisan Ltd, ACCESS, Vrutti, BAIF and Srijan).