What does a poverty alleviation charity like Oxfam and a global food corporate like Unilever have in common? They are both serious about smallholder farmers. More than 2 billion people depend on small farms for their livelihoods; the majority of them struggle with poverty and vulnerability. At the same time, these small farms represent an under-utilised source of food to meet a growing global demand. With investment in skills, knowledge, networks, and technology, small farms could hugely improve their productivity and environmental sustainability.
The idea of working together on smallholder supply chains was born when two senior managers from Oxfam and Unilever attended a learning journey in Honduras as part of the Sustainable Food Lab. In 2010, their collaboration was formalised as a joint project called “Sunrise”, and Azerbaijan was selected as the first country in which they would attempt to build a sustainable supply chain.
The Sunrise team formed a plan to source onion powder from marginalised farmers for use as an ingredient in Knorr brand soups and stocks. Implementation of this plan proved far more challenging than both Oxfam and Unilever had expected. Menka Sanghvi and Mia Eisenstadt from Reos Partners have researched the work done and produced a case study sharing key lessons from this ambitious undertaking.