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Small farms, big impact: How we’re building thriving communities around the world together


This week during the 75th (and first-ever virtual) UN General Assembly, AB InBev will join conversations around the world’s most pressing problems. In collaboration with industry, government and civil society leaders, we’ll look for solutions and opportunities to address the economic impact of the pandemic, climate change’s increasing pressure on the global food system, and advocate for collaboration to accelerate progress.

Here at AB InBev, our beers are made from high quality, natural ingredients grown by more than 20,000 farms across 13 countries. Of these, nearly 2/3 are smallholder farmers in developing markets, where in many geographies means they would farm less than one hectare (or 2.47 acres) of land. These farms historically were only able to work enough land to meet their basic needs. However, with greater access to technology, resources, agricultural support and formal markets, their farms are now more productive and becoming more profitable.

“This is about more than just beer,” said AB InBev Chief Sustainability and Procurement Officer Tony Milikin. “AB InBev is committed to helping our farmers gain new skills, become better connected and gain financial empowerment, because it’s good for their families and the economic health of our shared communities, while securing the long-term viability of our local supply chains. Together we’re building a better, more resilient global food system – and company – for the future.”

Supporting smallholder farmers is just one commitment AB InBev has made as part of our ambitious 2025 Sustainability Goals and in support of the larger United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

While we know there is still work to do, this year, we are proud to have been featured in Fortune’s Change the World 2020 rankings for our work supporting farmers in our global supply chain through collaboration and innovation to deliver economic and environmental impact. This is the 6th year Fortune has published the Change the World List to celebrate companies and leaders that embrace corporate purpose and recognize how it can add value to business and society. Last year, AB InBev was featured for our innovative work in agriculture with BanQu.

“Along with our valued partners, we will continue to invest in and work with smallholder farmers to improve their livelihoods while ensuring the availability of high-quality local ingredients,” said Katie Hoard, AB InBev global director of agricultural innovation and sustainability. “Our partners’ expertise, shared values and resources allow us to jointly develop better solutions with more immediate impact.”

“If farming develops, our well-being will develop”

One of these like-minded organizations is TechnoServe, an international development nonprofit that connects small-scale farmers and entrepreneurs with private sector partners. Through the global partnership – and especially in response to COVID-19 - we’ve strengthened our support of smallholder farmers across the globe.

When the pandemic prevented our Ugandan barley farmers from accessing their usual village drying centers, our team on the ground worked with TechnoServe to bring portable dryers closer to farming communities to alleviate the need for travel while also maintaining the quality of the crop. Meanwhile, we continue to use SMS and radio communications to reach more farmers remotely with updates on weather patterns and guidance for the growing and harvest seasons.

The Ugandan farmers then sell their crops via safe, socially-distant digital payments through BanQu, world’s first non-cryptocurrency blockchain platform. A member of our 100+ Accelerator’s inaugural cohort, BanQu gives smallholder farmers an economic identity and a voice in global supply chains. 

Our Zambian Breweries team also uses BanQu to financially empower farmers producing cassava, a tuberous root used to brew local beers like Eagle Lager. With BanQu, we are able to ensure that farmers receive the right price for their crop and are paid securely through digital payments made almost immediately upon delivery of their crop. Additionally, to boost the quality of cassava grown in the region, our teams work with the government agricultural research institute to develop new, more disease resistant plant varieties to improve yields and income for not only the farmers we work with but the broader cassava industry in Zambia.

Another crop we commonly source from smallholder farmers is sorghum, a cereal grain that can also be used to brew beer in places where more traditional beer ingredients, like barley, do not grow well.  In Tanzania, for example, our Tanzania Breweries Limited team has established a pilot program and local partnership with the World Food Program and Farm to Market Alliance to increase production of sorghum while providing a more reliable source of income for 1,400 farmers. The program provides farmers with access to input credit, sorghum seeds, crop insurance, technical training and –most important – assures that their crops will be purchased at the end of the growing season.

“Access to reliable markets is one of the many barriers holding back smallholder farmers from breaking out of subsistence farming,” said WFP Tanzania Country Representative, Michael Dunford in an interview with Africa Agribusiness.

“While we are working with sorghum farmers to invest in increased production beyond household use, we also need to ensure commercial buyers such as Tanzania Breweries Limited are there to purchase the surplus, boosting the livelihood of farmers.”

Across the Atlantic Ocean, our farmers are helping boost the economy in northeastern Brazil, where unemployment numbers are high. Together with local governments, our AmBev team launched a project to create and distribute new products made from locally grown cassava. Three new beers were developed - Legitima, Nossa and Magnifica - each distinct to a northeastern state, using cassava sourced from 545 family farms in 36 towns across the three states. To date, over 5,000 farmworkers have found employment through the expansion of the cassava market and more than $1 million has been injected into the communities of Maranhão, Pernambuco and Ceará.

Our company purpose is to bring people together for a better world, and that starts with our farming communities. While we leverage our scale and local approach to strengthen markets opportunities for farmers and to help improve crop production, we know that we alone cannot solve the challenges facing smallholder agriculture. Now more than ever, we are committed to developing collaborative solutions that put farmers at the center. Our planet and our beer depend on it.

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