Omni Impact Stories is a series that chronicles the actions taken to uplift farming villages in rural India as well as document the real-life accounts of the farmers and their families who are positively affected by the Improving Lives Foundation.
A case for sustainability
Consumers’ buying decisions are increasingly based on a broader world view of how their purchases impact people, labor practices, the environment and even economies. Transparency and sustainability top the list for consumers. And it’s also becoming an important part of a company’s business practices. Because transparency and sustainability are converging, OmniActive is taking a comprehensive approach to address both because we believe that every step in our supply chains provides an opportunity for positive change – whether it is a process, an ingredient or the health and wellness of a person or community. OmniActive’s Improving Lives Foundation (ILF) takes a long-term view of sustainability based on the ethical measure of a business – its people and impact on the planet. That is, when you prioritize environmental and social issues, the success of a company naturally follows. And that success can serve to further sustainability issues.
Our approach to helping people
We spoke to over 100 farmers, local government officials, local businessmen, schoolteachers, doctors and the women in the community to understand what were the key issues that they were facing. We quickly found out that the approach of asking the villagers directly was not only unique, but we were quite surprised by the responses we received.
Improving eye health is critical to improving productivity. According to the Indian National Program for Control of Blindness there is a backlog of over 12 million blind people in India. Many farmers suffer from cataracts, which they are unable to treat because they lack access to ophthalmologists. OmniActive has partnered with Shankara Eye Foundation to change that by hosting eye camps in these communities and addressing issues ranging from prescribing glasses to performing surgery. OmniActive pays for all the testing and surgical procedures.
Engaging the OmniActive family to do good through programs like OmniReads
Children who are visually impaired don’t have access to recreational reading. OmniReads aims to bring some joy to their lives through audiobooks. These books are children’s stories, which we have specially curated after talking to several libraries for the blind.
Anemia was identified as a major health concern by doctors within the communities. In addition to the health concerns of iron deficiency and anemia – which primarily affects women in these communities – it also impacts their productivity due to fatigue. Anemia is also a significant cause of maternal complications and mortality. Supplementation and simple changes in eating habits can help reverse the effects of iron deficiency, improving the health of women and their families. In order to address this issue OmniActive hosted a robust program beginning with awareness workshops to help women understand the need for improved nutrition. A screening program was also initiated to identify and treat all cases of anemia. Finally, we provided seeds for iron-rich vegetables for families to grow in their backyards.
Promoting better hygiene through targeted interventions like hand washing
Eighty percent of the community we serviced did not practice handwashing with soap, which can significantly impact community health, especially in young children. The simple act of handwashing can prevent one out of every three cases of diarrhea and reduce the spread of respiratory infections in one out of five children. Our program was designed to ensure the practice of handwashing became a daily habit for both the children and their families. Students from each class were selected to demonstrate and self-monitor the group before lunch, thus giving them a sense of ownership and pride for championing the campaign. We also monitored handwashing for 90 days, the amount of time which UNICEF estimates it takes for it to become a daily habit. To ensure compliance further, we created a soap bank for easy access and continued to monitor the schools every quarter.
Empowering farmers through education
It is estimated that 32-percent of India’s rural population is illiterate and for farmers, the percentage may be even higher. It’s not surprising, then, that dealing with the modern challenges of agriculture proves to be difficult for many Indian farmers. Low literacy rates directly translate into lower efficiencies and crop yields and contributes to a cycle of poverty. The Government of India has various programs to protect farmers and help raise their incomes, most of which transfer money directly into the bank accounts of farmers. However, because they lack basic skills (e.g. how to use ATM machines), most farmers struggle. So, implementing an education program to teach these basic skills was a critical first step to empowering farmers.
Improving farming methods and practices is also a focus for ILF. New advances in technology and farming practices are only as effective as the farmers’ knowledge base. The line between profitability or poverty is often determined by farming practices and, therefore, it is important to improve farmers’ competencies in Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and integrated disease and pest management. OmniActive’s approach has been a “365 program,” to help improve farming practices for the crops used in our ingredients and those grown at different times of the year – like food crops – to support a farmers’ livelihood year-round.
Investing in future farmers through youth training programs
In India, younger generations of farmers are moving away from the agricultural sector because of low wages and the uncertainties of a profitable future for them and their families. This exodus can profoundly impact countries like India because agriculture is a big part of the economy and labor force. There is another indirect cost to these farming communities: younger people who move to cities often end up with menial jobs that do not improve their economic status. Ensuring the future of farming requires keeping younger people engaged in agriculture. OmniActive has developed a pilot training program – including training in new and effective agricultural practices – with a goal to help younger farmers realize that farming can be a profitable endeavor for both them and their communities.
Our approach to helping the planet
OmniActive is taking a long-term commitment to conserving natural resources and recycling. Our initiatives include:
- Recycling water and building soil integrity: Water collected from marigold dehydration is rich in nutrients and organic material. Rather than discarding it, OmniActive has developed a process that, with minimal processing, converts it to a natural fertilizer to be applied to the farmers’ fields. For the farmers, the marigold water provides both moisture and rich organic material easily accessible to them
- Reducing water consumption: In a pilot project with farmers, we are deploying water-saving techniques like drip irrigation, which has resulted in savings of up to 90% of water compared to traditional agricultural practices
- Reducing, reusing, recycling of materials: Optimizing packaging of material in our supply chain so we can reuse whenever possible and replace materials that are difficult to recycle
Reducing our carbon footprint by transitioning to more renewable sources of energy
At OmniActive we are reducing our carbon footprint by switching to fossil fuel alternatives wherever possible. Some of our initiatives include:
- Reducing the need for energy-intensive processes: Marigold flowers are 90 % water and large amounts of energy is required during dehydration. So, to reduce the amount of energy needed OmniActive uses the physical process of silage as a first step, which requires little energy and eliminates approximately 30% of the water in the flower
- Reducing fossil fuel usage: Hassan’s hot air generator (HAG) – used for dehydration – relies on agricultural waste (coffee dust, wood pellets, rice husks and sawdust) as alternative fuel. We are working on reducing our reliance on fossil fuels at our plants by using byproducts as an alternative fuel source.
Protecting the soil through farmer training on integrated pest and nutrient management and encouraging the use of natural alternatives
In order to incentivize farmers to participate in our education program we offered free soil testing to all the farmers who participated. This not only increased attendance but also allowed us to assess the nutrient profile of the soil and replace what was missing to support soil fertility and crop productivity. Where needed, the use of natural alternatives, like cow manure and compost are used to help nourish the soil. Additionally, we educate the farmers on crop rotation to prevent soil depletion.
We are proud that our company not only serves as proof that these initiatives help improve the lives of all who are involved currently, but that we operate towards the greater good of a sustainable future.
About the OmniActive Improving Lives Foundation
OmniActive is dedicated to improving the lives of farmers as well as their families and villages in rural India. Through the Improving Lives Foundation, OmniActive dispatches various ground-level initiatives, providing critical services that promote vision health, nutrition, education and sanitation to uplift entire farming communities. For more information, contact us at email@example.com or follow us on Linkedin. #OmniImpactStories #ImprovingLives