The decline in agricultural growth and productivity in India is negatively affecting the lives of marginal farmers who comprise 75% of India’s population. Farmers face challenges such as limited access to alternative employment opportunities, declining incomes and lack of market access for their goods. 70% of India’s rural poor are at risk, living subsistence lifestyles without the ability to earn a sustainable livelihood for their families. Given such dire circumstances, alternative means of livelihoods can be very effective in providing an additional source of income and Under The Mango Tree provides just the solution.
Under The Mango Tree (UTMT) and its objective
UTMT is a social enterprise that promotes beekeeping to enhance incomes and improve livelihoods of marginal farmers in India. It utilizes the power of market forces to provide poor farmers with a profitable income stream by training them to use bees to diversify their revenue sources and by establishing market access for the honey produced. UTMT diversifies livelihoods by providing supportive and consistent beekeeping training sessions at the farmer’s homestead. Inherent in their model is not just a buy back arrangement for the honey and beeswax produced but a buyback at premium prices for the farmer due to organic certification. The all-natural honey collected retains its unique flavours influenced by flora nectar gathered by bees and is packaged and sold directly to consumers.
Besides providing farmers with a remunerative income through the creation of honey, bees play a crucial role in increasing agricultural productivity through cross-pollination. UTMT focuses exclusively on the indigenous bee, the Apis cerana indica, which is found in the natural surroundings of the areas it works in and is an excellent pollinator.
Innovative and unique, UTMT’s framework supports livelihood diversification along with increased agricultural productivity, increased employment, enhanced environment and sustainable incomes for farmers.
Since March 2009, UTMT has grown from just sourcing honey to providing beekeeping training, capacity-building and ensuring market access to nearly 3,000 farmers across 6 states over the country impacting more than 15,000 rural lives including farmer’s families. It has trained 1,432 farmers in beekeeping including women, helping them increase crop yields by 50% and thereby increasing their income by Rs. 10,000 -12,000 annually. It has trained 55 Master Trainers to provide support to scale up the model at farm level. It has brought to the market 10 metric tonnes of high-quality organic honey and 5 metric tonnes of beeswax.
UTMT has worked with multiple companies, leveraging their skills and support (monetary and non monetary) to improve various aspects of its operations.
The Taj Group, one of Asia’s largest hotel companies, supports UTMT’s programmes in the areas around the Taj Safari lodges in Bandhavgadh National Park. The Taj Group engages with the village communities by introducing beekeeping as a livelihood option and by providing financial support to programme implementation. It also stores and serves UTMT honey in the restaurants of its hotels and resorts.
The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), a retail banking company and subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group supports UTMT with volunteers in various events and programmes. At present, RBS is providing technical expertise in the development of a MIS software to assist programme monitoring.
Similarly, EdelGive Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Edelweiss Group, one of India’s leading financial services companies has been providing financial and capacity building support to UTMT since 2009 that includes strategic planning with thoughts on organization structure, hiring plans, fund-raising strategies and process improvements.
Benefits to the Social Enterprise
Leveraging the financial support for programme implementation by the EdelGive Foundation and The Taj Group, UTMT has been able to scale up its operations to cover more states and engage with more farmer communities to train them in beekeeping, thus enabling them to have a larger impact in reducing poverty. Going forward more such corporate partnerships would be crucial in facilitating expansion of UTMT’s interventions to states where they do not have a presence currently.
Collaborating with The Taj Group to source honey for their restaurants has also enabled UTMT to create niche urban markets. The current value chain for agricultural commodities – from plough to the plate – is long and tenuous, with many intermediaries. Farm gate prices available to Indian farmers are often only 25% of the retail price. Finding remunerative markets is an acute problem for small farmers. This partnership has helped UTMT provide direct market access at premium prices to farmer’s it trains.
Long term viability
The capacity building support from the EdelGive Foundation and the provision of technical expertise in the development of a MIS software to assist programme monitoring from RBS has assisted UTMT in improving their organizational processes and systems. Regular monitoring allows for early course correction and better program designing. It will also allow UTMT to collect data at regular intervals to monitor and measure the impact, thus making its operations more efficient and effective and ensuring long term viability.
Partnering with renowned and trusted corporations like The Taj Group, RBS and the EdelGive Foundation lends tremendous credibility to UTMTs endeavours. These partnerships provide immense visibility and act as endorsements for their excellent work and hence increase the possibility to build future partnerships for using distribution networks of large FMCG companies and procure potential clients for its honey.
Benefits to the Corporate Partners
By supporting this initiative, the corporate partners have been able to adequately fulfil their corporate social responsibility mandate. They have been able to play a critical role in creating sustainable social impact in the communities in which they operate, helping address issues of poverty, crop productivity, livelihoods and environmental sustainability. Providing marginal farmers with relevant skills training in beekeeping helped address the problem of unemployment and underemployment. Moreover, providing livelihood opportunities to small-holding farmers and diversifying their income sources impacts the entire family that is dependent on their incomes for better nutrition, education, healthcare and a better standard of living. Supporting community based interventions such as this also help companies create visibility and build markets.
Market development and customer satisfaction
Small beekeeping societies across India produced various flavours of honey that never reached urban markets. While India’s diverse flora led to production of orange blossom, cardamom, litchi, sweet clover and various regional honeys, the urban consumer was only given a single kind of uniform tasting honey. UTMT has established a fair-trade market for a variety of locally produced gourmet honey that is natural, organic and sustainable.
The corporate partner like The Taj Group is also able to provide its customers better satisfaction by offering different flavors of ethical, fair-trade and locally produced organic certified honey. UTMTs all-natural single-origin honey collected directly from beekeepers retains its unique flavours, which is linked to either a single flora source or a specific region and is not blended like other commercial honeys.
The partnerships that UTMT has built with EdelGive Foundation, The Taj Group and The Royal Bank of Scotland are exemplary of how a social enterprise and a company can partner in different ways. The partnership between UTMT and The Taj Group is an example of both community development as well as market creation. On the other hand, the collaboration with EdelGive is able to ensure that UTMT builds internal capacity at the same time contribute to its ongoing operation through financial support, the marking of an ideal CSR program. RBS’s partnership with UTMT has made headway in a much needed but often neglected service – monitoring. These partnerships therefore are firm indications with the fact that companies can partner with social enterprises in ways beyond just financial support.