Going carbon-negative: TerViva establishes world-first organic pongamia bean supply chain in India
When we last spoke to TerViva, the firm had just established itself as the world’s first F&B company to develop food products from the pongamia tree, introducing a whole new source plant-based protein and oil source to the industry.
Although it is based in the United States, TerViva has opted to establish its new world-first organic and fair trade pongamia supply chain in India primarily due to the tree’s long history in the country as well as the massive potential benefits for local communities.
“Pongamia trees are indigenous and well-known to the Indian subcontinent [where they are often for land restoration] due to their resilience to flood and drought conditions, ability to sequester carbon and replenish soil health,” TerViva Founder and CEO Naveen Sikka told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“[We have now] established a network of local farmers [in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha] to provide a secure, socially responsible and transparent supply chain of pongamia beans.
“India has a long history of wild-harvesting pongamia beans [as] fuel or for Ayurvedic purposes, [but our innovations to use pongamia as a healthy oil and protein flour will enable] smallholder bean gatherers to benefit from the greater value pongamia beans offer.”
‘Wild-harvesting’ means that the pongamia beans are harvested and gathered from naturally wild-growing trees. The trees grow naturally without any need for pesticides or chemical fertilisers, hence grow organically.
As of now, TerViva has successfully gathered several hundred tons of beans for processing, but Sikka’s expectation is for this number to reach 30,000 tons within the next five years.
“Even before that though, TerViva’s aim and commitment is to produce a carbon-negative food ingredient in the next two years that meets organic and fair-trade standards,” he said.
“Our pongamia food ingredients are 'carbon-negative' in that the trees will sequester more carbon than the beans produce in emissions from field to plate.
“Over the course of its 30-year lifetime, a single acre of a pongamia orchard can sequester up to 115 tons of carbon per acre [and is] also commonly planted to restore land and bolster the biodiversity of a given area.
“One acre of pongamia can replace one acre of new oil palm plantation or up to four acres of new soybean. Our pongamia trees are 3-5x more productive than soybeans when grown with regenerative practices, even on degraded agricultural lands.”
Sikka added that TerViva is in the process of securing an organic certification in India for the supply chain, which has been so far delayed due to COVID-19 but in the long run would be a big boost in a country looking to widen its organic exports.
“This will be the world’s first certified organic and Fair for Life pongamia bean supply chain,” he said.
“We are in the process of securing these certifications and helping our procurement partners secure these independent certifications as we further develop supply chain operations. Despite the limitations of field audit and verification activities this year, these certifications are in-process and will apply to future harvests.”
Fair for Life
The Fair for Life certification on the other hand is one that focuses on the safeguarding of human rights, especially for workers and smallholder farmers.
“The Indian government has worked to support the development of local communities by mandating a minimum floor price for goods like pongamia. Unfortunately, these prices are not strictly enforced and rural communities are often exploited and paid as much as 40% below the mandated price,” said Sikka.
“We are committed to empowering communities in India [by] working with them to develop harvesting practices that abide by organic and fair trade certifications – this will ensure that [the] downstream products secure a premium price.
“We pay them a premium above the government-mandated price because these communities deserve to be fairly compensated for the work they do.”
In Odisha, TerViva has partnered with DeHaat, an agri-tech firm that builds technologies for supply chains based on artificial intelligence, and has a service network of some 165,000 farmers in India.
“DeHaat engaged its farmer network in Odisha to mobilise community-based pongamia bean collections, [and] its platform also enabled the tracing of this procurement to ensure fair, full compensation for bean gatherers.”
The benefits for consumers
Apart from pongamia being a whole new source of plant-based protein and the sustainability advantages it can bring, TerViva also believes that this new supply chain will offer a high level of traceability and transparency at a time when this matters most to consumers.
“Consumers now increasingly demand that food products are not only affordable, but nutritious and good for the environment [as well as whether] a purchase will actually support the livelihoods of those who ensure it is delivered safely from field to table,” said Sikka.
“COVID-19 has accelerated this trend, with more consumers becoming aware of where their food is from, how it is grown and processed, and how that impacts their families and their communities. We create shared and equitable economic value by promoting fair labor practices and paying our workers a fair living wage. This matters to us and we know it matters to consumers, too.
“As part of our commitment to transparency, we will conduct life cycle assessments of all our products starting with food ingredients. By 2022, our aim is for 100% of the pongamia beans we procure to be fully traceable back to their origin.”
Pongamia-based foods are also in the pipeline, such as golden pongamia dressings, a veggie burger, high-protein baked goods and beverages which are expected to be first launched in the United States by 2021.
Although Sikka declined to reveal the names of the companies TerViva is working with to create and launch these, he said that they were ‘sampling these ingredients with major consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands to bring pongamia foods to market’.
“We are focused on introducing pongamia foods first in the United States, however TerViva’s growth will be largely concentrated in the subtropics, close to much of the world’s forecasted population growth and developing countries,”
“Poorer communities in these countries, and particularly smallholder farmers, are disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change. We are engaging these communities to build resilient economies through sustainable agricultural practices and diversification of incomes.”
Many countries which are comprise substantial subtropical terrain are located in the APAC region, such as India, Australia, Vietnam and Taiwan.
“DeHaat is helping us mobilise local farmers so that we are able to introduce pongamia foods to the market and sustainably address food needs globally. With regulatory approval and product launch in the US in 2021, we expect to bring our products to market in India and Asia-Pacific shortly after,” added TerViva Commercialisation SVP Marc Diaz added.