Solidaridad Asia provides scalable and economically effective sustainability solutions in agriculture and mining sectors in collaboration with governments, businesses and the community. We aim to drive sustainability from niche to norm in Asian markets and among Asian producers in a way that supports people, planet and profits. Solidaridad maintains a strong presence in the region including China, one of the world’s major economic powers, to ensure that the region develops as a sustainable market and responsible investor.
Producing more food with fewer natural resources to meet ever-rising and evolving demand is emerging as the ultimate challenge for Asia. Pressures on land, water, and energy resources are increasing due to competing claims. Moreover, the average size of farms is decreasing, and available farmland is becoming scarce.
Governments across Asia are proactive in increasing farm productivity through optimising the use of its scarce resources. The Indian government’s “more crop per drop” initiative, the Indonesian government’s efforts to reduce deforestation and the Bangladeshi government’s agricultural export policies are clear signs pointing in this direction. Governments and sector organizations in Asia have an increasing stake in the long-term competitiveness and productivity of their essential commodities. They need to generate jobs, provide food security and maintain export revenues. Solidaridad is partnering with governments in India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh to support this agenda.
The sustainability discourse in the region is driven by locally owned and developed standards. The Indian government actively supports the Trustea standard for tea. The Indonesian government is working on a presidential decree to make Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) an independent entity. The Malaysian government made Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification mandatory from 2019. Solidaridad is actively supporting the implementation of these schemes in all the three countries.
The shift toward sustainable agriculture and business shows long-term changes in China’s development philosophy. The meaning of social progress is no longer confined to economic growth and material improvement, but framed by a holistic concept of sustainable development. From a series of recent developments within the Chinese government, we can see that the promotion of national regulations and participation in global governance have become dominant trends in China’s policies.
Asia faces a challenge of two kinds. It is home to the world's largest middle-class population, and yet poverty persists in the region. Using a revised World Bank benchmark of poverty at $3.20/day and accounting for food insecurity and vulnerability, the estimated poverty rate in the region is significant. Not only that, but the middle-class’ increasing consumption is putting a huge demand on agriculture.
Less land, the unorganized nature of farming, reduced availability of water, rapidly degrading farmland and the impacts of climate change make agriculture a less desirable option for farmers. For example, India has been losing more than 2,000 farmers every day since 1991 and, in many cases, the younger generation does not find farming to be a profitable career choice.
Producing more food with fewer natural resources to meet the ever-rising and evolving demand is the ultimate challenge for the region in the coming decades. With a growing income and more mouths to feed, pressures on land, water, and energy resources are increasing.
For many developing countries, including China, the need to increase incomes, to achieve a prosperous and harmonious society at the same time as reducing environmental damage represents a real policy dilemma. Developmental and sustainable agriculture needs, together with the macroeconomic imbalances, put pressure on the region’s natural resources in order to keep health threats such as air pollution and food safety issues under control. It will require a more proactive stakeholder engagement process to achieve food security, sustainable development and other global goals outlined in the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Over the last decade, Solidaridad has pioneered development and implementation of national sustainability standards in the region. Together with partners, it founded the Teh-Lestari standard for tea in Indonesia in 2011 and the Trustea standard for the Indian tea industry in 2013. These sustainability standards are now dominant in both countries with more than 400 million kilos verified supporting 350,000 workers (50% women) and 40,258 smallholders.
Solidaridad has placed emphasis on regional cooperation for an Asian consensus between India, Indonesia and China on sustainability issues. These countries are the biggest producers and consumers of most of the commodities in which Solidaridad is active. Solidaridad is now facilitating joint programmes in these three countries on sustainable palm oil, industrial minerals and tea with a focus on attaining Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets.
In the past few years, Solidaridad has launched several first-time programmes and created impact in China. For example, the Better Mill Initiative, launched in 2013, saved 6.3 million tonnes of water, reduced 138,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions and increased company awareness of sustainability issues.
In 2015, Solidaridad launched the China-South America Sustainable Soy Trade Platform (SSTP), which encourages soy importers from China to adopt responsible procurement policies. In the same year, Solidaridad facilitated the launch of the China Sustainable Palm Oil Working Group as a permanent mechanism for stakeholder dialogue.
Supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the regional office runs the Sustainable Agriculture, Food Security and Linkages (SaFaL) programme in Bangladesh - one of the largest food security and market development programmes in the region. It has helped 57,000 smallholder farmer families to become successful agricultural entrepreneurs while addressing their food security. In its next phase, the programme will be scaled up to support 100,000 families.
Climate change related challenges like watershed management, land use planning, deforestation, biodiversity and degraded land cannot be solved at producer or supply chain level alone. That’s why Solidaridad has initiated programmes around the mid-Ganges river basin in India, Merapi Volcano in Indonesia and Sundarbans in Bangladesh that will support at least half a million farmers. Our approach is to develop a shared understanding of the main problems with the stakeholders to reach cooperative solutions.
A pioneer in leather
In India, Solidaridad ventured into the global leather sector by choosing Kanpur-Unnao leather cluster to make a real contribution to the "CLEAN GANGA" project. For this intervention, Solidaridad conceptualized a potential project to strengthen the value chain of the Kanpur-Unnao leather cluster through building capacities of relevant stakeholders on eco-friendly and innovative technologies. The project would also establish a few pilots to demonstrate the value of best practices.
Inspiring sustainable practices
Together with key industry stakeholders, Solidaridad has instituted the “India Sustainable Tea program” called “Trustea” since July 2013. The Tea Board of India (TBOI), IDH, Unilever, Tata Global Beverages (TGB), Wagh Bakri, Rainforest Alliance and the Ethical Tea Partnership are the key partners in the programme.
Moving beyond certification
Solidaridad’s sugarcane programme strategy is embedded in the local reality. The model of Solidaridad builds on an aligned agenda driven by a strong business case for producers, processors and end users. The programme not only allows buyers to move beyond their immediate supply chain but also diversify their base of sustainable suppliers while addressing the most critical issues faced by sugarcane farming sector in India.
Solidaridad has been supporting smallholder soy producers in India since 2009. It does so by promoting sustainability principles with coalitions of partners, including governments and businesses. Solidaridad strategies are based on a combination of good agricultural practices and robust rural infrastructures integrated with market solutions to develop “proof of concepts” for scale and impact investments.
- Palm oil
Sustainable and inclusive
Palm oil has been a source of significant livelihood improvements for many rural communities in Indonesia and Malaysia. Demand for palm oil from India and China is growing rapidly given their population and economic growth. Solidaridad is aiming for improving sustainability performances for inclusive and long-term sustainability of palm oil sector in Asia through better inclusion of smallholders, sustainable production and trade while safeguarding the environmental value.
Promoting responsible practices
Solidaridad and Unilever developed the Code for Responsible Extraction (CORE) to address issues in the mining industry. It is one of the first independently auditable global codes for minerals at the extraction site, supported by leading companies and civil society organizations.
- Fruit & Vegetables
Exploring emerging markets
Globally, Bangladesh ranks third in terms of production of vegetables and eighth in mango. The Sustainable Agriculture, Food Security and Linkages (SaFaL) is supporting 11,715 farmers (58% women) and the market to tap the potential of productive gains by adopting sustainable technologies in production and post-harvest management.
The white gold revolution
The dairy industry in Bangladesh is transforming with the economic growth and the demand of a growing population. The dairy production in Bangladesh largely depends on the smallholders, engaged in subsistence farming. They can hardly supply quality and quantity of milk to meet the demand of the dairy industry.
Improving sustainable business
Aquaculture is the most important sub-sector of Bangladesh providing 60% of the animal protein intake, food security, poverty reduction and export earnings. Bangladesh is the fifth largest aquaculture producing country in the world.
Globally, around 33 million hectares are planted with cotton, out of which 12 million hectares are in India. Cotton is a very important fibre crop for India as it provides the basic raw material to cotton textile industry. India has nine major cotton producing states and Solidaridad has been working on improving the cotton since 2004 by promoting the use of both organic cotton and BCI cotton projects initially in states like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. It then gradually expanded its scope of work to other states as well.
Scaling up impacts
The focus of Solidaridad Asia’s textiles programme is to prove and scale up best practice among large, established textile producers. It also seeks to guide the sector’s sustainable development with emerging producers.
In 2018, the Solidaridad South and South-East Asia and China regional offices joined together to form one continental office: Solidaridad Asia. Over the last 12 years, Solidaridad has emerged as an innovative sustainable solutions provider in Asia, working in India, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Hong Kong and Israel. Solidaridad Asia provides training on climate-smart sustainable agriculture and decent work for 500,000 farmers and 200,000 workers in 13 commodity areas. All our work is tailored towards creating practical solutions at scale for feeding the ever-growing demands of the Asian population through a more-with-less approach.
In India Solidaridad launched a partnership to clean up the Ganges River. The partnership’s aim was to make Kanpur leather more sustainable by reducing pollution levels from effluent water, creating a safer environment for 250,000 workers and cleaner water for 30,000 smallholder farmers who depend on wastewater for agricultural production.
In China Solidaridad supported 1,650 farmers in cultivating sustainable cotton in Guazhou City. The project focused on reducing the application of fertilizers and chemicals, promoting water saving technology and integrated pest management. By the end of the year a total of 7,085 tonnes of seed cotton were certificated by the Better Cotton Initiative.
The Malaysian Palm Oil Board signed an agreement with Solidaridad, the first such agreement with an international development organization to enhance the effective implementation and adoption of the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil standard for 100,000 smallholders. Similarly, The Solvent Extractors’ Association of India signed an agreement for the first time with Solidaridad to develop a framework for the sustainable production and trade of oilseeds and vegetable oils.
In China, sustainable development found a new place at the forefront of the political and economic agendas. Solidaridad worked directly in the manufacturing, agriculture and international commodity trade sectors to improve environmental and social performance alongside economic growth.
Solidaridad’s sustainable soy programme in India successfully supported 80,085 smallholders in major soy growing provinces. The programme covered 93,154 hectares of socially and environmentally sustainable soy in line with RTRS principles. Watch this video about Solidaridad’s Soy programme.
Solidaridad initiated an ambitious programme on responsible mineral extraction together with Unilever. A Code for Responsible Extraction (CORE) was jointly developed and is one of the first independently auditable global codes for minerals at the extraction site, supported by leading companies and civil society organizations. CORE verification offers a globally acceptable and credible assurance to buyers and other stakeholders that the industrial minerals are extracted in a responsible way.
Solidaridad and Hindustan Unilever Foundation (HUF) jointly launched one of the largest demand-side agricultural water efficiency programmes for Indian sugarcane, cotton, soy and tea sectors spread across 4,000 villages in 38 districts of nine states covering an area of 677,880 hectares in India. The programme aims to save 0.4 to 1 trillion litres of water cumulatively in three years through sustainable agriculture.
With 12 million euros in support from the Dutch embassy, Solidaridad launched the Sustainable Agriculture, Food Security and Market Linkages (SaFaL) programme in Bangladesh to improve the lives of 57,000 families and 1,000 producers’ groups for aquaculture, fruits and vegetables, and dairy. This was the first time sustainable agriculture, sustainable supply chain development and traditional nutritional security approaches were combined to develop a unique consolidated approach towards a market-based food security solution.
Solidaridad pioneered the development of a national sustainability standard from a bottom-up national perspective. The Lestari sustainability standard for tea became first the domestic sustainability standard ever launched in Indonesia. Pilots were initiated in partnership with Hindustan Unilever to develop a "stepping stone" sustainability standard for the first time in the Indian domestic market.
Solidaridad initiated one of the largest interventions around water efficient sugarcane production with EID Parry to supporting 40,000 smallholder farmers in southern India.
Around 4,000 coffee smallholders from three Indian states joined forces under one forum and were supported to be certified under UTZ Certified sustainability standard. This was the first smallholder certification for coffee in India under UTZ with support from seven coffee curing operations in the region. The UTZ Certified sustainability code for tea was also launched for the first time in India.
The UTZ Certified tea standard was implemented in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam for the first time with large plantations as well as smallholders. National Reference Groups (NRGs) were set up in all the four countries. The NRGs are an informal assembly of key national tea industry stakeholders committed to working together for enhancing the accountability and credibility of different national and international CSR standards applicable to the tea sector at the production end.
Solidaridad supported 7,000 cotton farmers to have "Fair Say and Fair Share" in the supply chain. Cotton farmers were supported in organizing under Chetna Organic Producers’ Company and Solidaridad facilitated farmers for the first time in gaining about 10% shareholding in a garment company.
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Service provider investment readiness: best practices
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Dutch Royals impressed by Indian leather project
King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima recently praised a Solidaridad-led initiative to reduce tannery pollution in the Ganges River. The royal couple was attending a tech summit in Delhi during their visit to India in October 2019.
Women’s society in rural Sri Lanka creates impact through improved access to water
In Solidaridad’s current project “Reaching the Unreached” in the Matale District in Sri Lanka, we work together with the local community in the rural village of Wanaraniya on renovating existing water systems that improve people’s access to safe drinking water. An important stakeholder in this process is the local women’s group the Visaka Women’s Society.
Blog: Disrupting our thinking on palm oil
During a recent trip to Asia, Solidaridad’s honorary president Nico Roozen was struck by a meeting with a farmer whose thoughts contradicted the current dominant narrative of palm oil as the main driver of deforestation. Could palm oil, in fact, be our saviour? Read Nico’s views on this topic in his latest article.
South-South cooperation to make small palm oil producers more sustainable
María Goretti Esquivel, Manager of Solidaridad’s palm oil programme in Colombia, went to Medan, Indonesia to share experiences and exchange best practices for smallholders in the controversial sector. She was there for the first training session by the RSPO Smallholder Academy, ahead of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil meeting this November.