I was recently in the mountains of Costa Rica on a warm, clear day outside San José. It was early morning when I met farmer Jessica Ovideo and she put me to work planting seeds, transplanting seedlings, harvesting, washing and packaging the hydroponic lettuce she grows for our Walmart stores in Costa Rica.
Jessica has a small greenhouse operation that after just one year is a profitable undertaking. She has a passion for the land and the environment and she told me that she is building a life in agriculture. She has quadrupled the heads of lettuce she supplies Walmart from 500 to 2,000 a week and continues to work with our agronomist to improve agricultural practices and make sure she is growing the varieties our customers in Costa Rica want to buy.
Jessica is just one of the successful growers in our Direct Farm program in Costa Rica, and we are working to replicate her success in all the markets where we operate around the world. That’s why I was visiting her farm with three fantastic colleagues from Walmart India who were there to see this sourcing program in action and take the best parts back to India. During a break from our work on Jessica’s farm, I videotaped a conversation which you can see below with Ashik Hamid, who is Walmart India GMM for Fresh and Grocery.
Our day on Jessica’s farm was part of Walmart’s First Global Direct Farm Summit, the realization of a dream we’ve had for some time to bring together our leaders who source and buy produce for our stores all over the world. They came from China, Japan, Brazil, Canada, the UK, South Africa, Chile, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the US, Argentina and more. It was such a powerful experience to sit side by side and analyze the produce sourcing business models in each of our markets and explore how economic, social and environmental sustainability attributes can be integrated into them.
Walmart Central America already has a best-in-class program that is buying directly from small and medium-sized farmers, eliminating middle men so that farmer income increases and sustainability is emphasized. The benefit is that we can bring locally sourced and fresher produce to communities close to where it is grown.
Direct Farm is just one aspect of our sustainable agriculture commitments. We are focused on supporting farmers and their communities; producing more food with fewer resources and less waste; and sustainably sourcing key agricultural products.
To support farmers and their communities, we have pledged to buy $1 billion in produce sourced from one million small and medium-sized farmers in emerging markets, train a million farmers and farm workers (of which we expect half to be women), and in doing so improve farmer incomes 10 to 15 percent. We also recently made additional commitments to support women in the agricultural supply chain.
These are broad, ambitious goals. Growers like Jessica Ovideo are what this is all about. This smart, ambitious farmer represents how our direct farm business model and our commitments to sustainable agriculture and women’s empowerment come together.
I’m looking forward to bringing you more updates on our sustainable agriculture initiatives and would love to hear from you.