Isomir (“Industrialisation solidaire en milieu rural”, which means social industrialization in rural areas), is a social business that helps farmers to widen their range of activities in order to remain economically stable. Danone.communities was one of the first shareholders to join the Isomir project when it started in 2010. Two years later, Mélanie tells us about this initiative, which offers a new way of reconstructing and strengthening the social and economic network in rural areas.
Farm to table
It all started with Adie (a business initiative support association), which realized that small producers needed business stability solutions and thus began working with FNCUMA (the national federation of agricultural equipment users’ cooperatives) to find these solutions.
To be able to survive long-term in a distribution channel, you have to be big. However, it is currently difficult for new farmers to set up: there is not much land available so they often have to start on a very small scale. New strategies must be found to allow them to take control of their businesses,
explains Mélanie. The idea is simple: to allow these farmers to work on “farm to table” distribution channels and thus widen the scope of their businesses. Isomir was created to achieve this. Firstly, it provides farmers with on-site processing units that are entirely adjustable. These units allow milk producers to make their own cheese, animal breeders to transform meat into marketable products, vegetable growers to produce cooked dishes, all in perfect hygiene conditions. Farmers then become combined producers, food processors and shopkeepers, and gain some control over the destiny of their produce, and in particular how much they earn from it. But Isomir goes a little further. It also provides these farmers with tailor-made help and coaching at each stage in the development of their businesses. Its third role is to fund or help fund the projects, which often have little equity capital and struggle to secure bank loans.
Social businesses in rural areas
Isomir has already helped to start two projects. The first one, in Deux-Sèvres, allowed an entrepreneur couple who had decided to follow a new career path to install their own processing unit to make and sell pâtés from the poultry and pigs they raised.
The second was launched in January 2012 and is quite different, bringing together four vegetable growers from the Yvelines in a cooperative to process their vegetables into marketable goods for local school meals providers. They share equipment but each retains ownership of his production.
When asked about Isomir’s main values, Mélanie explains that it aims to
contribute to the emergence of new projects in the context of a local economy. The ongoing success of these farmers’ businesses has a social and economic impact in rural areas, it helps to curb rural depopulation and maintain variety in local production, and therefore biodiversity. It also promotes social bonding between producers, and with consumers who are increasingly interested in the origins of products.
A case study on building social businesses? Of course, says Mélanie, because for a business to be socially successful, it must attain economic stability and be profitable for all stakeholders. “The founder of Isomir was a businessman, to him profitability was essential. But the social dimension was also a part of the project from the start, because we reach out to small producers whose long-term survival is threatened unless they can add additional value to their production.”
Isomir has already contributed to two promising social and local businesses, and expects to support five more before the end of the year, with another ten being studied at the moment. “On average, one farmer contacts us every two days” – proof that Isomir is meeting a growing need, and is destined to become a successful social business itself.
Isomir is one of the projects supported by danone.communities, a fund created by Franck Riboud and Prof. Muhamad Yunus to select, fund, promote and support innovative social business projects. These projects are chosen according to a series of criteria: they must commit to a social issue, be innovative to create “new types of businesses”, focus on local communities and on co-construction. Danone.communities defends the idea that “social impact can be achieved through economic sustainability” and that “social business offers a new economic and social balance”. Among others, the fund supports projects in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Senegal and France.
For more information, you can visit Isomir’s dedicated website.