B Corps Partner with Farmers to Drive Global Social and Environmental Impact
At Cooperative Coffees, a regenerative business model involves ownership by 23 roasters in the U.S. and Canada who import fair trade, organic coffee from smallholder farmers.
For the FruitGuys, it means creating a network with small farms across the United States that adopt climate-positive farm strategies.
And at Gallant International, it includes helping more than 700 cotton farmers gain Regenerative Organic Certification.
These three Certified B Corporations exemplify how companies can support farmers as they adopt regenerative practices to improve soil health and create more resilient communities. These companies also demonstrate how small businesses can operate for social and environmental good in global industries where volatile prices, low wages, and extractive practices are common.
Leaders from these three B Corps shared insights about their strategies to expand regenerative practices and build impact-positive businesses during a breakout session at Champions Retreat 2022. The gathering of B Corps from the U.S. and Canada and partners features discussions and activities that help companies share best practices and connect for greater collective impact.
The examples in the session highlights that follow are just some of the ways that B Corps are creating strong connections with partners and building resilient supply chains that are good for people and the planet.
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Cooperative Provides Resources to Support Regenerative Coffee Farms
Melissa Wilson Becerril, Impact Manager at Cooperative Coffees, said some parts of the coffee industry are a few steps ahead regarding sustainable practices. The fair trade movement and organic practices have roots in the coffee industry, and smaller roasteries often prioritize strong connections with growers.
Cooperative Coffees includes 11 B Corp members and sees its partnerships with coffee farmers as a way to help improve their livelihoods and create thriving communities.
“It’s less about teaching them what to do … but rather listening to them and empowering them with resources and access to be able to expand the great work they already do,” Becerril said. “We want to make coffee farming a viable economic activity for them and their lands.”
That includes an impact fund that Cooperative Coffees started after a coffee fungus epidemic that was a byproduct of climate change, she said. The fund helps farmers bridge gaps when their production drops and supports climate change adaptation and mitigation.
“Because our biggest indicator of success in supply chain management is the length of our relationships, that also means we share the risk when the risk arises,” Becerril said. “A lot of the work farmers do goes unrecognized monetarily. We started this to enable financial recognition for the work that farmers are doing every year that benefits the environment.”
That includes supporting coffee farmers with COMSA in Honduras, which was established more than two decades ago. Fredy Alexander Pérez Zelaya, Head of Technical Assistance at COMSA, said the group offers training on organic agriculture and other Earth-friendly production methods. “We started with six producers, $600 in capital, and a lot of enthusiasm,” he said. “Along the way, we’ve been able to find allies in fair trade … and buyers who share our vision for the planet.”
COMSA faced challenges entering the organic coffee market and focused on supplier training and certifications that appeal to partners like Cooperative Coffees. “We’ve been able to grow not just in capital but grow as humans,” Pérez Zelaya said. “We not only talk about regenerative agriculture but also regenerative trade.”
Funding from partners like Collective Coffees supports coffee farmers as they transition to regenerative practices, Pérez Zelaya said.
“At first the cost is very large, but you have to stick with it and get through that,” he said. “The product is not all that is yielded. You will also yield and have the seeds of life, education, and more than come from the hard work.”
Additional benefits for COMSA include premiums that have been used for community improvements, including a bilingual school, hotel, local roasted coffee business, and waste management operations.
Climate Justice Case Studies
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Seeking Farmers’ Input to Best Support Regenerative Practices
The FruitGuys uses a regional supply chain model that allows the company to source its mixed fruit boxes directly from growers. “We have a network of about 200 small farmers across the U.S. that we build long-term relationships with who are strong stewards of the land,” said Sheila Cassani, Manager of Mission Engagement at the FruitGuys.
About 75% of the farmers have worked with the B Corp for five years or more, which helps deepen trust between buyers and growers.
“When farmers have long-term viability in their partnerships, they are more likely to adopt regenerative practices,” Cassani said.
The relationships also help the FruitGuys determine how best to support farmers. “Hearing their struggles about water access and drought informed our desire to create a community fund,” Cassani said. The fund provides grants of $2,000 to $5,000 for on-farm regenerative ecosystem projects — “where the farmer tells us what’s going to be the most impactful for them,” Cassani said.
The FruitGuys business model aims to increase access to healthy foods and address food insecurity on a local level. Excess or visually imperfect produce is donated to community organizations, she said.
Helping Cotton Farmers Become Regenerative Organic Certified
B Corp Gallant International has worked with more than 700 cotton farmers in India to transition to practices that are Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC). Gallant International Founder Vikrant Giri said the transition is part of the company’s journey as a sustainability leader. “It’s impossible to have healthy people on a sick planet,” he said.
Gallant International is a supplier of ROC and fair trade cotton products, including apparel, bags, and other accessories. Giri said the three pillars of ROC appealed to him: healthy soil, ethical and humane treatment of animals, and fairness for farmers and workers. He also was attracted by the companies that spearheaded the Regenerative Organic Alliance, which was founded in 2017 by the Rodale Institute and B Corps Patagonia and Dr. Bronner’s. “Why not follow these leaders by supporting farmers and workers around the world?” Giri said.
Giri said Gallant encourages and inspires cotton farmers to see the broader benefits of adopting ROC practices such as intercropping. The farmers help to improve soil health and reduce food insecurity by planting two or three crops between each cotton crop, he said. They also have an opportunity for additional income from the new crops.
Many of the farmers operate on just a few acres and may not have the money to afford the transition to organic practices. Giri said Gallant helps by providing free organic cotton seeds, paying fees for ROC training and certification, and committing to buy the cotton they produce. “That motivated them, and they are motivated that they are going to grow extra crops and have extra income,” he said. In addition, Giri said the farmers see how they are building resilience to climate change and mitigating its effects on the planet.
Watch the full conversation:
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