The 'Socrates' program has one mission: to implement credible sourcing practices to ensure parents’ trust and a better planet for our vulnerable consumers. To fulfill this mission, Danone focused on the assessment of its suppliers’ sustainability practices, but also on strengthening relationships with farmers, who need to be supported to grow the ingredients in a more sustainable way. Together with farmers and research institutes, two pilot trials on two of our key ingredients were designed: apples (46% of all fruit volume) and carrots (31% of all vegetable volume). The objective was to design the best way to enhance biodiversity on farms, to evaluate its effect on insect populations and to reduce the use of chemical crop protection products. After a 2-year trial, the findings will be rolled-out to other Early Life Nutrition product including carrot, potato, apple and pear farms.
Why it matters
Recent data shows a worrying decline of insects and birds populations in Europe over the last 30 years – up to 75% decrease. One of the reasons is modern agriculture, which is no longer investing in maintaining natural habitats. Farmers’ awareness of the problem is increasing but they need technical support to restore biodiversity in a way that would benefit their production systems. Research shows that a good level of biodiversity has the potential to balance pest populations on a farm, which can lead to a reduced use of crop protection products and a better system resilience. Installing grass, flower strips or hedges can also have a positive impact on soil health. By linking research to farms, we aim at speeding up the implementation of innovative sustainable practices, and by using alternatives to chemical crop protection products we reduce the risk of having residues in our ingredients and lower the negative environmental impact.
How it works
We have chosen two pilot farms among our main crops: an apple orchard, owned by Mr Jan Senk in central Czech Republic, producing Golden Delicious baby food apples; and a carrot farm in France, les Landes, owned by Mr Philippe Charpentier. To make sure that our project is locally relevant, we built partnerships with well-known research centers: the Crop Research Institute of Prague and CTIFL in France.
Together with experts and farmers, we built a 2-year research protocol on 1 ha of field/orchard involving:
- the installation of habitats for insects (flower strips, grass strips, insect shelters), birdhouses, bat houses;
- the measurement of the beneficial insect, bird and bat presence compared to a standard field with no enhanced biodiversity;
- the implementation of detailed monitoring of pests to minimize the use of crop protection products;
- the testing of new alternatives to chemicals to assess their effectiveness.
The results are compared to a 1 ha orchard or field managed in a standard way.
How it creates value
Research trials usually take place in small test fields and the findings often do not work in standard, larger production fields. Thanks to our applied research process, we can assess the effectiveness of innovative solutions in our orchards/fields. This enables the team to speed up the implementation of the research findings.
During the two years, the project team worked on dissemination – fresh vegetable and apple farmers visited the pilot farm and received training on the new practices.
As a result, a list of practices were created on biodiversity and crop protection that Danone expects the farmers to follow by the end of 2020 at the latest. Danone will assist farmers through this journey and will follow up on the implementation with audits.
The research findings will be published and shared via scientific papers & conferences, which also allows for dissemination of the learnings on a larger scale.