Sustainable rice farming in Pakistan

Basmati rice has been cultivated for centuries in India and Pakistan. It has become a key element of local farming, especially in the Punjab region, which extends across both countries. Basmati rice from Garant, Axfood’s own brand, comes from this region. Unfortunately, climate change is generating a huge impact on smallholder farmers and groundwater levels are sinking. Women are particularly vulnerable to this situation.

In order to support smallholder farmers and seasonal rice workers with climate-resistant and water-saving rice growing, Axfoundation runs a long-term project in cooperation with Axfood and its rice supplier, RolRyz. The project places an emphasis on women, their influence, rights and working conditions. Education in sustainable farming practices follows the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) standard.

The project is run in the Sheikhpura district of Pakistani Punjab. Oxfam Pakistan leads this work in Pakistan and the Doaba Foundation is the implementing partner in Punjab.

Project milestones 2017-2018:

More than 900 rice growers have been organised into 10 cultural organisations where over half of the participants are women. This has had great success in strengthening women’s position in rice cultivation. In the management groups of cultivator organisations, 50% are women.

As part of the project, 900 rice growers have been trained in how to grow rice more sustainably, and with better quality, which generates positive impact on the environment, for the rice growers working conditions, and generates higher incomes for rice growers. This includes education in technologies that can reduce water use by 30%.

The project is based on and teaches the SRP standard, which is a new sustainability certification standard for rice. The goal is for smallholder farmers to be able to sell their rice as SRP-produced rice and be better paid.

Through this project, smallholder farmers get access to rice exporters, which means that they can break ties with the middleman in the village, which reduces profit. They also receive support and training from the stately Rice Research Institute and Faisalabad Agricultural University. Researchers also contribute studies and support the project with current findings.

The project brings together several actors, including private stakeholders in the value chain (Axfood, RolRyz and exporter Matco in Punjab), politicians, government agencies, civic organisations, researchers, experts and, not least, the smallholder farmers themselves. The cooperation is formalised through a multi-stakeholder platform that discusses the social, economic and environmental challenges and solutions regarding rice cultivation and rice farmers’ well-being at quarterly meetings.

These multi-stakeholder platforms are used, among other things, to highlight the importance of labour laws that also apply to employees in agriculture. The project has produced a position paper on the importance of good working conditions in rice cultivation. Now efforts are being made to introduce a labour law, which has not been the case before, as the agricultural sector is largely informal and unregulated – despite Pakistan being the fourth largest rice producer in the world, accounting for 9% of the country’s export earnings.

Within the framework of the project, Oxfam has succeeded in attracting national press attention from DAWN about the hard conditions that rice farmers face, thereby increasing pressure on politicians to implement better legislation.

Axfoundation and Axfood made a field visit to Punjab in January 2018. Read about the trip here.

The project will enter its second phase in 2019 as we scale up and plan to reach several thousand farmers. Axfoundation will share the Sustainable Rice Platform standard in the Swedish market, so more players than demand sustainable rice production.

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