Uncle Ben’s to source all basmati rice through certified sustainability standard

All basmati rice sold under the world's largest rice brand will be sourced under a sustainability platform to address human rights issues in supply chains and improve the environmental impact of farming practices.

Mars Food has announced that basmati rice sold under the Uncle Ben’s and the Seeds of Change brands will be sourced from farmers working towards the Sustainable Rice Platform’s (SRP) standard for rice growing.

Having worked with the SRP since 2013, Mars Food has agreed to the sourcing principles for the two brands after a successful pilot project in 2016. The project tested new SRP growing technologies in Pakistan and delivered an 8% increase in yield, a 30% reduction in water consumption, and a 32% increase in net income for the farmers.

The new announcement marks the first major milestone in Mars Food’s journey to source all its rice varieties from farmers working towards the SRP standard by 2020.

“We’ve shown that sustainable rice can sustain a farmer’s livelihood,” Mars Food’s global sustainable sourcing director Luc Beerens said. “These innovations, if adopted throughout the industry, could fundamentally shift how rice is grown today, helping to protect the environment, lift farmers out of poverty, and meet future demand worldwide.”

More than 3.5 billion people across the globe rely on rice for food, and 19% of the population are employed in rice production. Traditional rice cultivating practices use around 40% of the world’s irrigation water and account for 10% of global emissions. As population, and therefore demand, grows, Mars Foods is seeking to promote sustainability to its rice suppliers in India and Pakistan.

Mars Food already works with suppliers and partners to promote best practice, such as the International Rice Research Institute, WWF and sustainability-orientated Swiss Intercooperation Helvetas.

SRP was established by UN Environment and the International Rice Research Institute to develop the gold standard for rice production practices. While SRP maps farmers against 46 performance indicators, Mars Food will also invest in programmes to address human rights and women’s empowerment. Mars Food will provide health clinics in Pakistan and issue a study on gender roles in the rice supply chain in India.

“We have greatly appreciated Mars Food’s leadership as a first-mover and front-runner within the SRP and are pleased to see that Mars Food is building upon the SRP standard in its own supply chain through implementation of additional impact programs,” UN Environment’s James Lomax added.

Farmer Income Lab

The SRP pledge follows on from Mars’ unveiling of a near-$1bn investment into a new sustainability action plan that uses science-based targets to “drastically expand” on previous carbon goals.

Mars’ Sustainable in a Generation plan is a new corporate strategy that sets a 67% reduction in emissions across Mars’ value chain by 2050. The new sustainability plan also includes targets to eliminate water use in excess of “sustainable levels” in its value chain and improve the working lives of one million people that it sources from.

Earlier this year, Mars also launched a programme to boost cross-sector collaboration to improve smallholder farmer incomes across agricultural supply chains. The Farmer Income Lab will be tested through Mars’ Livelihoods Fund for Family Farming scheme, which seeks to improve farming and production methods, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and improve the living standards of local communities in developing countries.

Matt Mace

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