Every successful food business depends on successful farmers. Farmers whose income sustains their way of life, supports their families, educates their children and improves their communities.

We are a collaborative think-do-tank, founded by Mars Incorporated, here to ask the right questions, create solutions and inspire action. To build global supply chains that work for farmers and for business.

We're starting with farmers working in Mars' supply chains in developing countries. But, ultimately, we want to see everyone working in agricultural supply chains earn a sufficient income to enable a decent standard of living.

The challenge we face

Sustainable Development Goal 1 calls for no poverty. But today, an estimated 200 million* smallholder farmers are producing food within supply chains and far too many of them live in poverty. This is unacceptable. The current supply chain model isn't working and it's time for change.

To feed the world, the food industry needs farmers who are thriving, efficient and productive. That means farmers need an income that enables a decent standard of living.

To get there, we'll need bold new ideas and solutions. Because economic poverty won't be solved with the same thinking that perpetuates it.

* Reference: World Bank, 2017

Some of the many factors affecting farmer income

What's needed
for change?

Impact at scale

There are not enough examples of successful strategies and business models to significantly increase farmer incomes to the level and scale required.

Outcomes over activities

So far, strategies have been focussed on activities instead of outcomes, and aren't designed to deliver the scale of change we need.

An agreed goal

There's been a lack of full consensus around what the long-term goal for farmer income should be.

Clear roles and deeper collaboration

The challenge is too big for any one organisation to solve alone. It needs all of us — businesses, NGOs and governments — to convene and collaborate, each playing our own unique role.

Our approach

Our approach will be evidence-based and collaborative. That's the only way we'll overcome our collective challenge.

Here's what we'll do:

In phase one of our work, we will address critical questions, such as:

“What are the most effective actions that companies, like Mars, can take to enable smallholder farmers in global supply chains to meaningfully increase their incomes?”

There may be limited evidence available to answer this question, so we will conduct a literature review and a series of in-depth stakeholder dialogues to identify:

  • the fundamental levers that most effectively contribute to increasing farmer incomes

  • models that unlock opportunities for women and lead to increased business value, as well as how to integrate these models into business strategies and measure progress in doing so.

We are a small group of knowledge partners from academic, private sector, non-profit and intergovernmental organizations with a collective vision and determination to ensure our research leads to action. In addition to Mars Associates, our core team includes the University of Wageningen Center for Development Innovation, Oxfam, and Dalberg Global Development Advisors. From 2019, we will identify more partners to drive our collective work forward. A spirit of collaboration, open-mindedness and willingness to question assumptions and conventional wisdom unites every organisation in the Lab.

Insights & Publications

In 2018, Mars, Incorporated launched the Farmer Income Lab’s work with Dalberg and Wageningen University as research partners, and with strategic guidance from Oxfam USA. We’ll share further publications from the Lab and relevant insights papers in the months to come.

In the first paper published by the Lab, the team reviewed the available evidence from hundreds of efforts to increase smallholder farmer incomes.

The findings are detailed in full in our discussion paper, "What works to increase smallholder farmers’ income?"

To build on the paper’s findings and provide additional insights into how, as an industry, we can meaningfully improve incomes, in July 2018 the Lab convened a small group of experts from the academic, civil society, philanthropic and industry sectors. The Insights and Reflections document summarizes the key insights from those discussions and the Lab’s analysis of the evidence.

Wageningen University has prepared a selection of quick scans that support the wider research effort looking at, “What are the most effective actions that lead buyers can take to enable smallholder farmers in global supply chains to meaningfully increase their incomes?”

You can find the quick scans here: www.wur.eu/wcdi-publications

Oxfam USA has produced a paper that paper identifies entry points for lead buyers to help close income gaps for small-scale farmers titled "A Living Income for Small-Scale Farmers: Tackling unequal risks and market power".

The Farmer Income Lab and Mars

Farmer poverty is an issue for the entire agricultural industry, which poses a serious risk to long-term business resilience and growth. If it isn't fixed, Mars and others simply won't be able to buy the raw ingredients — like cocoa, rice and vanilla — that they depend on to create the brands their consumers love.

So the Lab has been founded by Mars as an incubator for insights that can be put into action in through sustainable sourcing strategies that may start with Mars but could extend much further. This is certainly not a one company agenda. It's a challenge that every business who relies on farmers in developing countries faces. And it's one that needs all of us to play a role in solving.