It’s a pretty good sign that sustainability is going mainstream in the food supply chain when General Mills gets into the microloan business with Peruvian artichoke farmers, and that is happening right now.
General Mills and its supplier/partner AgroMantaro are providing the loans so small farms can buy artichoke shoots and seeds, helping them to increase yields and improve profitability.
The breakfast food giant says it is building on its long history of working with farmers around the world by identifying very specialized methods — and partners — to help small farmers advance sustainable practices.
In Peru, these farms are typically one to two hectares, or two to four acres, and are run by women who lost their husbands during the civil unrest in the 1980s.
General Mills sources its artichokes from the Sierra region of Peru for its top-selling brand in France, Green Giant or Le Geant Vert. While the crop has a strong export potential, farmers have struggled to capitalize on it because of lack of capital, training and education, and access to export markets.
The four-year joint commitment between General Mills and AgroMantaro will provide more than $1 million to help the farmers with training on crop management; microloans to buy shoots and seeds; training on starting farm cooperatives; and financial planning education to put together business plans.
The two companies are joining with the international humanitarian organization CARE, which specializes in facilitating community governance and local connections, and will work side-by-side with the farmers and AgroMantaro to meet the project objectives.
It’s just a guess, but $1 million over four years sounds like a pilot project for a corporation that has $18 billion in annual net sales. In the short term the benefits are likely to come primarily from maintaining a good corporate reputation. General Mills does have a well established set of responsible sourcing policies, so even a small project helps to keep its practices aligned with its stated policies. It is also possible that General Mills is taking a long view of the situation and sees potential cost savings coming from better yields, more consistent products and lower risks from its micro-investments.