Dr. Bronner’s, the family-owned and number one seller of natural soap in the United States, has just released a short film highlighting how they’re working to source organic, fair trade products, and create what they hope is a better agricultural system. “Journey to Pavitramenthe” is the second film in Dr. Bronner’s “Journey” series, and explores the lives and farms of organic mint producers in India’s Uttar Pradesh state. The company has been sourcing organic mint oil from the region since 2003, which is the key ingredient in many of its best-selling products.
Dr. Bronner’s has been recognized worldwide because of its socially and environmentally responsible practices. In 2005, the company made a shift towards buying the vast majority of its materials from organic and fair trade sources—today, they’re going further and advocating for regenerative agricultural practices for farmers and improving the livelihoods of rural farming communities.
Their latest film describes how after decades of intensive, industrial cultivation, many farmers in India struggle to maintain soil quality, with some soils reaching extremely low levels of organic matter. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), India loses an estimated 5.3 billion tons of soil per year due to desertification, and more soils are becoming barren due to excessive use of chemical fertilizer. A separate FAO report about soil health states that “without restoring the organic matter and nutrient contents, the nutrient cycles are broken.”
In 2015, Dr. Bronner’s sent four experts to the farms in Uttar Pradesh to help establish them as certified fair trade and organic producers of mint oil, which led to the founding of a new project. This project, called Pavitramenthe, works directly with farmers to implement regenerative agriculture practices including composting, using mulch, minimal tilling, and rotating crops to return nitrogen to the soil. “Regenerative organic agriculture is about reversing all that disaster,” says David Bronner, Cosmic Engagement Officer (CEO) of Dr. Bronner’s. “It’s a strategy that mimics nature, farming in nature’s image, and when you look at a natural ecosystem, there’s no external chemical inputs, no synthetic fertilizers, no pesticides. It’s a totally self-regenerating system.”
Pavitramenthe has grown to include over 1,500 small-scale farmers and is working to make progress in improving soil health and community development. For example, they’re encouraging farmers to use legumes as cover crops, which can help protect the soil from erosion and provide a source of healthy protein as well as a potential source of additional revenue to the farmers.
Regenerative agriculture techniques can have multiple benefits, including creating additional biomass in soil, drawing carbon out from the atmosphere, and improving the quality of the crops grown. A mint farmer in the film, Shakuntla Devi, describes other benefits including “experiencing less illness” and saving money by not having to use chemical fertilizers. “Healthy crops and healthy food and amazing mint oil is a byproduct of really healthy, living soil,” says Bronner.
While Dr. Bronner’s does not produce food, its trade practices make it an unmistakable champion for a better food system. In “Journey to Pavitramenthe,” Rob Hardy, the Fair Trade & Organic Manager for Dr. Bronner’s, explains that fair trade allows farmers to get a 10 percent organic premium over the market rate for their crop, plus another 10 percent which goes towards a community fund. The fair trade committee from the area then brings ideas together, prioritizes them, and puts plans into action. Since 2015, the committee and Pavitramenthe have invested more than US$500,000 from Dr. Bronner’s fair trade premium towards projects aimed at improving healthcare, providing clean water, improving composting, farmer training and education.
In the film, Bronner says that “the importance of sourcing mint in an organic and regenerative fashion is that it supports such a huge land base and a huge number of farmers,” which is a principle that may directly be translated into food production. Dr. Bronner’s goes beyond creating sustainable soaps and personal care products, and looks to set an example for the fair treatment of agricultural systems and the people who work with them.