Since 2005, Dr. Bronner’s has shifted supplies of the vast majority of its main raw materials—coconut, palm, olive, mint oils—to organic and fair trade sources. Now, we are supporting our partners in their move to regenerative organic agriculture. One example is Pavitramenthe, our partners in Bareilly, India, some 170 miles east of Delhi. Pavitramenthe supplies Dr. Bronner’s with organic and fair trade mint oil. The project now works with more than 1,200 farmers, on farms that average less than 2 acres. Members of Dr. Bronner’s Special Operations team visited the project In November 2017 to plan next steps in implementing regenerative organic agriculture on the ground.
A key element of the program is the recently launched centralized compost operation—it will eventually supply farmers with about 10,000 tons a year of subsidized compost. This compost will be used to increase the biomass content in the depleted soils, build soil fertility, foster microbial life and facilitate sequestration of atmospheric carbon. The hardware for the project was funded by the German development agency GIZ, while Dr. Bronner’s staff and consultants (such as Soil and More) provide technical advice. Compost is a low cost, but highly impactful tool for farmers that helps them increase yields, improve their soil’s water-holding capacity and build resiliency in the face of climate change.
Many Pavitramenthe farmers have already used vermicompost, a compost process that utilizes worms, which they produce in simple pits at their homes and on their farms. It serves as a fertilizer and top dressing when planting new crops. Many of these vermicompost pits are located near village farms. Farmers pour the concrete pad for the compost pit, while protective netting and posts are financed by the fair trade premium—an additional 10% that is charged to mint oil buyers and which can go to finance projects such as this.
Minimizing soil disturbance is an important aspect to any regenerative organic farm. Regular heavy tilling, like plowing, destroys soil structure, disturbs microbial populations and sends carbon into the atmosphere. Pavitramenthe farmers are testing new conservation tillage techniques and tools, like roller-crimpers, harrows and no-till seed drills, to minimize soil disturbance and preserve soil organic matter. The local fabrication of conservation tillage equipment was also paid for through the GIZ grant.
November in Uttar Pradesh is lentil harvesting season. Pavitramenthe farmers have increasingly begun to plant lentils and other legumes (such as beans and peas) in their crop rotation. Aside from providing a healthy, plant-based protein source, legumes play an important role in regenerative organic agriculture. They sequester atmospheric nitrogen and convert it into organic nitrogen fertilizer, reducing the need for synthetic fertilizer while stabilizing soils. Diversifying crop rotations can also reduce pest pressure. Delphi Organic, a German importer of organic products, joined us on the November visit to Bareilly and have shown great interest in sourcing some of their organic and fair trade legumes from Pavitramenthe.
Pavitramenthe farmers have also begun planting cover crops on their fields. Keeping fields covered as much as possible is a core principle in regenerative organic agriculture. Cover crops can play a key role in reducing erosion, fixing atmospheric nitrogen, building soil structure, suppressing weeds and generating biomass. This Pavitramenthe farmer has grown a cover crop of Dhaincha during an otherwise fallow period. The Dhaincha (also known as Sesbania) is another legume, which can either be folded into the soil as a “green manure,” or harvested for use as fiber or animal feed.
Since its formation in 2015, Pavitramenthe has also made great strides in community development. In addition to agricultural projects, such as vermicompost pits, Pavitramenthe has facilitated and funded medical camps, the construction of home toilets and the distribution of water coolers for drinking water. These projects were paid for by the fair trade premium received from Dr. Bronner’s, Pavitramenthe’s primary buyer of organic mint oil. Another project targets development of skills and income opportunities for women. Many women in Bareilly and its surrounding communities make sarees for the domestic and international marketplace. Pavitramenthe has been working with women artisans to improve their working conditions through better tools and lighting. This kind of skills development, along with an extensive capacity building program for farmers to teach regenerative skills, is a key element in the overall regenerative program funded by GIZ.