Sustainable, traceable, and transparent initiatives are continuing to gain more attention. Verdure Sciences® aims to ensure botanical integrity backed by sustainability and a transparent paper trail to support the efforts in place.
Under Verdugration®, Verdure Sciences’ internal program encompassing our sustainability initiatives for the planet, plants, and processes, as well as Verdure Cares® (a sub-set of Verdugration®) which focuses on sustainable relationships with people, our social impact, and global stewardship, we have been able to implement and focus on clean label solutions for botanical integrity and secure supply chains.
Recently, we virtually interviewed Dr. Shweta Singh, BSc, MSc, PhD to capture a better understanding of what sustainability is, how it applies to regenerative agricultural practices, and what this means in India as well as for Verdure Sciences®.
Sustainability and traceability are gaining a lot of mainstream attention. Can you help shed light into what these practices look like for botanical ingredients?
Sustainability, the judicious use of natural resources by preserving the resources for future generations, plays a key role in business and beyond. Since botanicals are sourced from nature, significant importance has to be set on the sustainability approach towards maintaining rich biodiversity. It is a crucial part of any business; however, when it comes to a business based on natural products [this importance is amplified] multi-fold and still more stringent. In the botanical ingredients industry, a transparent value chain acts as the pathfinder to thoroughly understanding the journey of raw material[s] from the field to the [finished product].
To promote sustainability and traceability in the herbal sector, we can practice the following:
- Local sourcing of raw material[s] help[s] us to [mitigate] carbon footprint [output, and] also help[s] towards better reach and traceability of raw material[s]
- To abide by the Access and Benefit Sharing and the Nagoya Protocol, which ensures the fair and equitable sharing of any benefits that arise from the utilization of biological resources
- To go by global traceability policy & fair and wild certifications which detail where and how the biological resources are cultivated or collected, how the benefit is shared, and further the quality and quantity of the same
The sustainability of botanicals also should be ensured by making the most efficient use of them as well as preserving them for the future.
- Working directly with farmers and avoiding numerous intermediaries to ensure quality, cost, and supply over time (Laird and Pierce, 2002a) has been proven effective in sustainability [initiatives]. Also, this helps provide more significant and wide-ranging benefits to local producers. These benefits primarily take the form of sourcing-related capacity-building or premium payments for materials, but examples cited also included health reforestation efforts (Laird and Pierce, 2003).
- Preference for cultivated over wild-harvested material, as this will not only take care of extinction and scarcity of raw material[s] but also it provides the following benefits: a) an authentic supply and volume, at a granted price, b) quality control can be better accessed (species identification, taxonomic authentication, unadulterated material, use of pesticides, fertilizers, post-harvest handling, and practices, etc.), c) the active compound content and chemical markers can be standardized, and d) raw material can be certified based on its standard (Laird and Pierce, 2003).
Care for nature and society and ethical sourcing of raw materials are the key factors for the sustainability and traceability of botanicals.
What are some of the biggest challenges to sustainable botanicals?
Various factors challenge the botanicals industry as obstacles to establishing sustainable and ethical development. They include insufficient information from consumers, lack of industry awareness of environmental, ethical, and social responsibilities regulations, a tradition of raw materials sourced as commodities, and industry preference for large-scale cultivated material, which leads to the marginalization of other native species (Lombard, 2002).
What are the challenges unique to India in regards to sustainable initiatives?
India has had a history of slow growth, too much bureaucracy, and mismanagement. The Swedish Nobel laureate in Economics, Gunnar Myrdal, once wrote that India has a “soft state” that needs to become effective before any economic reforms can be implemented. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government have now started to reform the state structures to make them more efficient. In this purview following are some challenges to sustainable growth.
- Defining Basic Indicators: One of the major challenges for India is to devise suitable indicators to effectively assess the progress of sustainable initiatives in India. The defined parameters for sustainability, conservation, and ethical issues need[s] to be revised, particularly for the Indian scenario, to effectively implement sustainable initiatives.
- Financing Sustainable Development Goals: Despite India’s efforts toward sustainable development there is a huge funding shortfall and mismanagement that hinders the progress of attaining sustainable development goals.
- Monitoring & Ownership of Implementation Process: Although NITI Aayog is expected to play an important role in taking ownership of the implementation process, the members of the Aayog have expressed their concerns time and again about the limited manpower they have to handle such a Herculean task.
- Measuring Progress: The government of India has admitted the non-availability of data, especially from the sub-national areas. Incomplete coverage of administrative data is yet another factor that has hampered the measurement of progress for even the Millennial Development Goals (MDGs) that were the precursor to SDGs. The huge gap opening up in India between the extent of natural resources that the country uses and the amount that it possesses is alarming. “India is depleting its ecological assets in support of its current economic boom and the growth of its population,” says Jamshyd N Godrej, erstwhile Chairman of the CII Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre. “This suggests that business and government intervention are needed to reverse this risky trend and ensure a sustainable future in which India remains economically competitive and its people may live satisfying lives.” (https://indiatogether.org/challenges-to-sustainable-development-government)
Also, the interests and livelihood of the poor and tribal people, which depend largely on access to common resources such as forests, water bodies, and grazing lands, are miserably neglected. The commons, on which these sections depend often for their very survival, cannot be allowed to fall prey to pollution and the pursuit of unregulated private profit. The report of (Prahlad Shekhawat, 22 May 2015) also suggests India could propose that that sustainability and human development need not be contradictory to each other but can complement each other in measurable terms.
What is regenerative agriculture and how does this work in places such as India?
The word ‘regenerative’ means ‘the ability to bring into existence again;’ therefore, if a system is regenerative, it has the innate capability to bring itself into existence once more. Robert Rodale (1983) defined regenerative agriculture as‘one that systems enhance the level of productivity, increase soil quality and biodiversity in farmland, nourishes the soil and produce which leads to profitability as well as biological stability. These farming systems include (1) rebuilding soil communities following a tillage event, (2) eliminating spatio-temporal events of bare soil, (3) fostering plant diversity, and (4) integrating livestock, macro, and microflora along with cropping operations on the land (LaCanne, 2018).
[Regenerative agricultural practices have] minimal to no negative impact on the environment beyond the farm or field boundaries. Its products are free from biocides; [which]in turn helps large numbers of people during a transition to minimal reliance on non-renewable resources. One of the major principles of regenerative agriculture is to maintain plant diversity and is one means to address the principle to ‘avoid pesticides.’ This is also achieved by crop rotation or mixed cropping (Giller et al, 2021).
A[n] example of a sustainable/regenerative system is a forest, in which there is no waste and the debris from the previous year turns into the rich soil from which the new life of the following year is carried forward (Rhodes, 2017). Regenerative agriculture results in benefits for the ecosystem and the economy. Ecology and economy are greatly benefited by regenerative agriculture. It boosts the self-defense and survival of crops against natural disasters such as severe storms, earthquakes, and drought. This system also helps in the absorption of atmospheric carbon (carbon sequestration), resulting in cleaner air and reducing the greenhouse gases that cause global warming (French A).
In India, natural farming is promoted as Bharatiya Prakritik Krishi Paddhati Programme (BPKP) under the centrally sponsored scheme—Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY). BPKP is aimed at promoting traditional indigenous practices which reduce externally purchased inputs. It is largely based on on-farm biomass recycling with major stress on biomass mulching, use of on-farm cow dung-urine formulations; periodic soil aeration, and exclusion of all synthetic chemical inputs. According to the HLPE Report, natural farming will reduce dependency on purchased inputs and will help to ease smallholder farmers’ credits burden.
NITI Aayog along with the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers welfare had convened several high-level discussions with global experts on natural farming practices. It is roughly estimated that around 2.5 million farmers in India are already practicing regenerative agriculture. In the next 5 years, it is expected to reach 20 lakh hectares—in any form of organic farming, including natural farming, of which 12 lakh hectares are under BPKP.
Is wild-crafting sustainable? Does/do wild-crafted botanicals fit into sustainability initiatives?
Ethical wildcrafting is absolutely sustainable. That is, wildcrafting with principles of responsibility and a sense of care for nature is an extremely sustainable foraging method. Wildcrafting which ensures medicinal plants, spices, herbs, and botanicals are grown, protected, and harvested using ethical and sustainable methods, as well as their diversity, is considered sustainable (Li et al, 2021). Also, organic certification[s] of wildcrafted herbs [helps to] assure ethical wildcrafting practices as outlined by the certifying organization, [and these efforts] help in sustainability initiatives.
To fit resources from the wild into sustainable initiatives, one must bear in mind a set of questions or issues: regulatory aspects; environmental and climate aspects; economic, social, and cultural aspects, [as well as] biodiversity and population of the resource[s]. Sustainable wildcrafting and maintenance of bioeconomy resources while preserving biodiversity requires transparent policies (Kurnaz & Kurnaz, 2021).
Are there country specific challenges with wild-crafting?
There are challenges, not only country-specific, but also region specific. As each country has specific biodiversity, the status of resources and regulations for them [are different]. Therefore, the challenges also vary based on region-specific regulations and resources.
How do wild-crafting initiatives help support sustainable efforts? Can you share an example?
Sustainable wildcrafting helps in the avoidance of negative impacts on plant population density and the maintenance of biodiversity. A major threat for sustainable collection projects is the over-harvesting of medicinal plants in uncontrolled wildcrafting, as can be observed with many plants such as devil’s claw in Southern Africa. However, methods for sustainable cultivation of devil’s claw were developed with the results being incorporated into large-scale cultivation projects conducted by firms such as the global botanical giant Martin Bauer (Organización Mundial de la Salud, & World Health Organization, 2003).
Can you explain if it is better/more beneficial to partner with farmers or provide land to them?
Providing land to the farmer will not be a great idea and preferably contract farming, hand holding farming or partner farming would yield greater benefit. In an age of market liberalization, globalization, and expanding agribusiness, there is a threat that small-scale farmers will struggle to fully participate in the market economy. In many countries, such farmers could become marginalized as larger farms are preferred for profitable operations. A consequence of this will be a continuation of the drift of populations to urban areas leaving the farm and farming that is being witnessed almost everywhere. This is largely because the necessary backward and forward market linkages are rarely in place, i.e. rural farmers and small-scale entrepreneurs lack both reliable and cost-efficient inputs such as extension advice, mechanization services, seeds, fertilizers, and credit, and guaranteed and profitable markets for their output. Well-organized contract farming or partnering with farmers does; however, provide such linkages, and would appear to offer an important way in which smaller producers can farm commercially. Similarly, it also provides investors with the opportunity to guarantee a reliable source of supply, from the perspectives of both quantity and quality.
The contracting of crops has existed from time immemorial. With effective management, contract farming can be a means to develop markets and bring about the transfer of technical skills in a way that is profitable for both the sponsors and the farmers. The approach is widely used, not only for trees, herbs, and other cash crops but, increasingly, for fruits and vegetables, poultry, dairy produce, and even prawns and fish. Indeed, contract farming is characterized by its “enormous diversity,” (Jackson, 1994) not only in the products contracted but also in the many different ways in which it can be carried out. The contract farming system should be seen as a partnership between agribusiness and farmers. To be successful requires a long-term commitment from both parties. Exploitative arrangements by managers are likely to have only a limited duration and can jeopardize agribusiness investments. Similarly, farmers need to consider that honoring contractual arrangements is likely to be to their long-term benefit. Also, partnering with farmers gives smallholder farmers the possibility of knowing in advance when, to whom, and at what price they will sell their products. This helps to reduce the unpredictability of agriculture and allows them to better plan their production. When sponsors also provide access to inputs including technical assistance, farming agreements can lead to significantly increased yields and profits (The Farmers Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services, Ordinance, 2020).
Are sustainable agricultural practices always organic / is sustainability one in the same with organic? Are botanicals grown organically that are not certified organic? Why are these practices used? Are they sustainable?
[Certified organic and sustainable are not synonymous.] Many small or community-based farms grow crops in a way that is just as, if not more, sustainable than “organic” food production. Obtaining the USDA’s organic certification is very expensive and requires going through a heavily bureaucratic process. This can act as a barrier to many small farms, which may not use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, and may even implement other sustainable practices that go far beyond requirements set by the USDA. For instance, the USDA organic requirements instruct farms to wrap food in plastic, which many smaller farms choose not to do. Small farms also tend to plant more diverse crops compared to conventional industrial agriculture. Additionally, locally sourced food creates less carbon emissions due to reduced transportation distances. Organic doesn’t necessarily equate to being local, and oftentimes the latter choice is more sustainable (Karen Asp, 2018).
In an exhaustive review by Meemken, & Qaim (2018), it is reported that organic agriculture is often perceived as more sustainable than conventional farming. However, the review of the literature on this topic is from a global viewpoint. In terms of environmental and climate change effects, organic farming is less contaminating than conventional farming when measured per unit of land but not when measured per unit of outcome. Organic farming, which currently accounts for only 1% of global agricultural land, is lower-yielding on average. Due to higher knowledge and skill requirements, observed yield gaps might further increase if a larger number of farmers would switch to organic practices. Widespread upscaling of organic agriculture would cause additional loss of natural habitats and also entail output cost increases, making food less affordable for poor consumers in developing countries. Organic farming is not the paradigm for sustainable agriculture and food security, but smart combinations of organic and conventional methods could contribute toward sustainable productivity increases in global agriculture.
- Laird SA and Pierce AR 2002a. The Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Botanicals Project: Report from the pilot project phase, August 2001-January 2002. Rainforest Alliance, New York. www.rainforest-alliance.org/news/archives/news/news44.html.
- Laird SA et al. Sustainable raw materials in the botanicals industry: Constraints and opportunities. In III WOCMAP Congress on Medicinal and Aromatic Plants-Volume 2: Conservation, Cultivation and Sustainable Use of Medicinal. 2003 Feb. 676: pp. 111-117.
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- The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services, Ordinance. 2020.
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