Mint, one of the oldest herbs in the world, is a commonly-found ingredient in several day-to-day products used for personal care and in cosmetics and pharmaceutical products. The refreshing aftertaste of its leaves makes it an excellent addition to food and beverages, while the essential oil derived from them is a chief flavouring agent in breath fresheners and chewing gums, toothpaste, and mouthwash, as well as mint-flavoured candies, chocolates, and desserts. It is also increasingly being used for aromatherapy owing to its soothing properties.
The global surge in the consumption of natural and organic products is resulting in the expanding market size of mint essential oils. Therefore this encourages producers of mint-based products to invest in sustainable supply chains, to ensure a supply chain that meets their ever-increasing demand for high-quality mint oil.
While there are several varieties of mint under the genus Mentha, four of them are commonly cultivated for commercial purposes — Japanese Mint / Cornmint / Menthol Mint, Peppermint, Spearmint, and Bergamot mint varieties. They differ in their chemical composition and aroma, and each has distinct applications in consumer products. While the United States and Canada are primary producers of peppermint and spearmint, 80% of the world’s supply of Japanese mint originates in the Northern regions of India. This variety of mint, Mentha arvensis, is known for its high menthol content, and its oil is less expensive compared to peppermint oil, making this variety more sought after by producers of several FMCG, pharmaceutical, and aromatherapy products.
GLOBAL PARTNERSHIPS FOR SUSTAINABLE MINT PRODUCTION IN INDIA – THE SHUBH MINT PROJECT
The commercial cultivation of mint in India is estimated to cover 3,00,000 hectares of farmlands, 90% of the produce comes from the lowland regions of Uttar Pradesh, while the rest are from parts of Punjab, Haryana, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh. The total production amounts to nearly 30,000 metric tonnes of mentha oil annually, 75% of which is exported by the country. Considering that a majority of the raw material originates from one region in the world, enterprises are committing to improving the agricultural practices, to ensure sustainable production of better quality and higher quantity of mint yields.
One such company is Mars Wrigley, which is well-known globally for chocolates, fruity confections, and mints and chewing gums. For this company, mint is an essential flavouring agent in 65% of its mint-based products across Orbit, Extra, Doublemint, Airwaves, and 12 other brands, thus making it imperative for the company to ensure the long-term viability of this prime ingredient. In this regard, it resolved to implement the Shubh Mint project in 2014, which would focus on improving the socio-economic welfare of mint farmers in India.
Although Mars rarely engages with smallholder farmers directly, the company understood that the prosperity of these farmers is critical to its business. The company partnered with Tanager (formerly known as Agribusiness Systems International (ASI)) to conduct extensive research on the mint industry in India, identify key areas that affect mint production and farmers, and deliver recommendations for sustainable sourcing of mint.
Several challenges, such as deteriorating soil health, poor quality of agri-inputs, and rising production costs, were affecting the agri-productivity and incomes of mint farmers in India. The Shubh Mint project, therefore, aimed to boost the production of mint oil by encouraging the adoption of superior agronomic and distillation practices that will enhance the quantity and quality of yields. The farmers were also provided adequate training on good agricultural practices (GAP) where they could learn better techniques for planting, irrigation, fertiliser application, soil management, water conservation, and intercropping.
Overall, these practices enabled farmers to earn better incomes and improve their standard of living over time. Within a year of the project’s implementation, 2,600+ farmers were trained, and their yield was up by an average of 68%. Many of these farmers had also spent less on input, saving an average of INR 6,222 during the crop season.
BUILDING RESILIENT COMMUNITIES FOR A BETTER FUTURE
While empowering farmers with training and education to improve agricultural output formed the core of the sustainability project, the company also ensured the holistic development of rural farming communities. The farming communities in Uttar Pradesh faced several barriers to growth, including gender-based discrimination and educational disparity. With Tanager’s support, the project facilitated the setting up of over 300 self-help groups, which encouraged women to access information and capital to explore farming and other livelihood skills. The project also funded new libraries in the villages that today serve as community meeting places and offers books, computers, and internet services for easier access to learning and development opportunities.
ENHANCING EFFICIENCY WITH SMART FARMING SOLUTIONS
The success of the Shubh Mint project was further strengthened by leveraging modern agriculture technology in select villages in Uttar Pradesh. Norex Flavours, a proud partner of the Shubh Mint project, teamed up with CropIn to provide 17,000+ farmers with technological support through SmartFarm®, the end-to-end farm data management software. This digital intervention is enabling the extension staff on the field to capture accurate data on the farmer, farm plot, and the crop on a cloud-based mobile application. This farm intelligence facilitates the extension staff to provide adequate support in the form of advisory and services throughout the crop cycle to ensure maximum per-acre value and reduced crop loss. Recording all completed tasks at each stage enables the creation of a digital record of the activities and ensures increased transparency at the farm level.
Furthermore, CropIn is implementing a pilot project to test the efficacy of remote sensing in estimating the yield and quality of the mint under cultivation. SmartRisk® , CropIn’s AI/ML-powered engine, will leverage satellite imagery to identify the crop, detect the crop health, and predict the yield in near-real-time. In the long term, this will enable the company to reduce the number of extension staff required on the field and significantly improve cost- and time-efficiency, while not compromising on the quality of data collection and reporting.
ADVANCING TOWARDS THE ULTIMATE GOAL
With an estimated 80% of the Indian agriculture sector driven by private companies, multi-stakeholder projects such as Shubh Mint are critical to the progress of smallholder farmers in developing countries. The success of these projects is made even more possible when the collaborating organisations focus on the same strategic intent and drive their efforts towards the end goal by complementing each other’s strengths and values. The primary goal of the Shubh Mint project was to ensure a sustainable mint value chain by enhancing the livelihoods of smallholders farmers, and each of the partners played a critical role in achieving the same.