Scott Anderson

From Seed to Harvest, BASF’s BoP Initiative is Rooted in Education, Profits: A video Q&A from BCTA’s Forum 2014

Samruddhi means “prosperity” in Sanskrit. In the seven years since BASF launched an initiative of the same name, Samruddhi has also meant a new way of life for hundreds of thousands of soybean farmers across India.

In 2007, the multinational company established a pilot project with 30,000 soybean farmers to help them boost productivity in their crops and incomes in the marketplace.

“The single biggest need gap we found was in information,” said Raman Ramachandran, chairman of BASF Companies in India, during last month’s Business Call to Action Forum 2014. “How do you grow soy better and make it more economical?”

The answer, it turns out, rested with providing farmers tips on how and when to fertilize and safely utilize pesticides. BASF hosted town hall sessions for farmers, conducted field trials, and worked directly with farmers during harvest season and when it came time to sell their products at market.

BASF is one of nearly 100 members of the Business Call to Action, which was established in 2008 to accelerate progress toward the Millennium Development Goals by challenging companies to develop inclusive business models that cater to people in emerging markets earning less than $8 per day.

By 2013, more than 221,000 farmers had joined in BASF’s program, Ramachandran reported. He pointed to a PricewaterhouseCoopers impact assessment of Samruddhi, which found that participating farmers have increased yields by 25 percent and incomes by 36 percent. This assessment also determined that a large portion of the farmers reinvest their earnings in food, medicine and education for their families. The initiative not only benefits the farmers, but also BASF since farmers who have profited are buying more farm equipment like tractors and inputs like seeds, as well as fertilisers from BASF.

When asked if BASF would invest in this project as a business initiative – and not a break-even or potentially expensive corporate social responsibility project – Ramachandran’s answer was unequivocal.

“Definitely,” he said. “We knew that if (participating farmers) developed better practices, many of our inputs would work.”

In coordination with the BCtA, I had a chance to interview Ramachandran. Below are some excerpts of our discussion, with additional details on BASF’s initiatives.

Base of the Pyramid, smallholder farmers