The ideas come from the community

The right target audience

A busi­ness for the commer­cial side, a charity for social commit­ment: the bioRe Foun­da­tion supports orga­nic cotton farmers in India and Tanz­a­nia with a holi­stic approach.

‘It quickly became clear to us that what we needed was to train the women in orga­nic farming,’ says Christa Suter, CEO of the bioRe Foun­da­tion. The foun­da­tion supports orga­nic cotton farming. The first trai­ning sessi­ons in India were atten­ded by the regis­tered farmers, i.e. the men. This turned out not to be parti­cu­larly produc­tive, howe­ver: ‘In Indian fami­lies, it is often the women who do the farming, as well as the house­work,’ explains Suter. ‘That’s not to say that the men don’t work – they just have diffe­rent respon­si­bi­li­ties, like taking care of irri­ga­tion.’ To be effec­tive, the foun­da­tion needed to engage with the women. Teaching mixed groups isn’t possi­ble for cultu­ral reasons. As a result, there are now over 80 women’s groups. In these groups, they learn how to use compounds contai­ning garlic, onion or chilli to natu­rally deter pests. The trai­ning also teaches women the why, not just the how. This know­ledge enables them to put the measu­res into prac­tice effec­tively. ‘The idea is that the women pass on the know­ledge they gain. We have trai­ned 800 women to date – and we intend to increase that to 1,000 in 2021.’

More than mere resource extraction

Patrick Hohmann laid the foun­da­ti­ons for bioRe in India 30 years ago. In 1991, the charity’s foun­der and current hono­rary presi­dent of the board of trus­tees laun­ched an orga­nic cotton farming project. In 1994, the project was foun­ded in Tanz­a­nia. From the very start, the projects were based on the prin­ci­ple of combi­ning econo­mic growth with social factors. In the begin­ning, the social elements were inte­gra­ted into the gene­ral busi­ness opera­ti­ons. Howe­ver, this soon became too compli­ca­ted. A foun­da­tion that was respon­si­ble for the social side of things seemed like the ideal solu­tion. In 1997, Remei and Coop foun­ded the bioRe Foun­da­tion. The advan­tage of this solu­tion is that the social commit­ment is not depen­dent on the rest of the busi­ness. ‘All of the busi­ness acti­vi­ties rela­ting to the product stay within the company Remei. The bioRe Foun­da­tion takes care of the social and commu­nity aspects,’ says Christa Suter. Despite this split, the foun­da­tion remains a key pillar of the orga­nic cotton project.

Women in India work the land and learn new orga­nic farming techniques.

Respon­ding to people’s needs

A holi­stic approach is an important factor in the foundation’s success. It exclu­si­vely supports projects that emerge from the commu­nity itself. ‘The foun­da­tion responds to people’s needs. It is ideas from the commu­nity that inspire the projects,’ explains Christa Suter. Seed rese­arch and schools are among the successful projects that have been laun­ched in this way. Iden­ti­fy­ing the issues is at the heart of the foundation’s social enga­ge­ment. ‘We didn’t want to just build 18 school buil­dings, we wanted to faci­li­tate school educa­tion,’ states Suter. The idea came from one of the farmers. The child­ren gathe­red in his home to start deve­lo­ping a school routine. The focus was on very basic things: explai­ning to the child­ren what school was, making sure they turned up neat and clean and that they had their school things with them. This was the foun­da­tio­nal work that first intro­du­ced the topic of educa­tion to the commu­nity. Today, the empha­sis is on the quality of the school educa­tion. The foun­da­tion does not see itself in compe­ti­tion with the state, howe­ver. ‘We have previously closed schools when a govern­ment school has opened up nearby,’ states Suter. A total of 1,261 child­ren curr­ently attend the schools: 694 boys and 567 girls. ‘The mothers reco­g­nise it as an invest­ment in the self-deter­mi­ned future of their daugh­ters,’ asserts Xenia Ritter, head of commu­ni­ca­ti­ons at bioRe. The foun­da­tion has also helped to improve sani­tary condi­ti­ons for the women, which are often inade­quate in rural regi­ons of India. In some places, there are no toilets. Govern­ment projects with funded public toilets were unsuc­cessful. ‘The men told us they wanted toilets to make things safer for their wives,’ explains Suter. It was clear that these needed to be loca­ted right next to their homes. These made them a safe place and gave women a sense of privacy, espe­ci­ally when they were on their period. This solu­tion also ensu­red that someone felt respon­si­ble for the toilet and kept it clean.

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