Event minutes: the Livelihoods fund’s first birthday


The youngest of the funds created by Danone brought together project owners, experts in the carbon economy and partners from corporate companies for an exciting discussion.


The creation of the Livelihoods fund was announced a year ago. This innovative carbon offsetting programme, which cares about biodiversity, ecosystems and the people who live in them (see the interview with Bernard Giraud, president of Livelihoods Venture), already has some beautiful successes to present to the world. The Livelihoods fund’s first birthday was therefore a day of celebration, during which we were able to meet the project owners, representatives of the companies that finance the fund, and a handful of people who are enthusiastic about the new carbon offsetting model that Livelihoods has invented. Here is an account of a very special day for the fund and its projects.


A fund born from a dream


9am. Danone, as the initiator of and one of the contributors to the Livelihoods fund (along with Schneider Electric, CDC Climat, Crédit Agricole, La Poste and Hermès International) has invited its partners, the project owners and several journalists to take stock of one year of existence and draw the path to the future. Bernard Giraud, president of Livelihoods Venture, gives an introductory speech:

This fund was born out of the dream of a few corporate companies and a few field activists: to bring two worlds together. Wide-scale, and long-term.

Two worlds that share the same planet: corporate companies looking to offset their carbon emissions, and poor farmers who need their ecosystems restored, as Bernard Giraud explained in his interview. Two worlds that can also share common interests: “Thanks to our fund, we are helping programmes in underdeveloped areas to grow and develop. And the South is helping us (the North) compensate our emissions. We sign contracts with them, as equals. It is a win-win process.” The audience of journalists and experts, and four of the project owners, then introduced themselves: Ajanta Dey from Nature Environment & Wildlife Society (NEWS) in India; Manoj Kumar and David Hogg from the Naandi Foundation, also in India; and Ismaïla Sall from Oceanium in Senegal. All four work either in mangrove restoration (NEWS and Oceanium) or agroforestry (Naandi). They explain how they built their programmes in cooperation with the local populations: as Bernard Giraud explained in his interview, it is crucial that the programme is in their interests. “We select the mix of fruit trees that we are going to plant via an ongoing dialogue with the community, so that we understand their needs” (David Hogg). “We did not have to convince them that our programme (creating a “bioshield” with mangroves to project the area from constant flooding – ed.) was good for them: they knew it was! There, survival is an everyday question” (Ajanda Dey). “In each of the villages we reach, we appoint an intermediary who is given a coordination and information-sharing role. This is our main strength: we are close to the villagers” (Ismaïla Sall). Stanislas Pottier, Sustainable Development director at Crédit Agricole, agrees:

The quality of these projects lies in their field work. The NGOs interact with the communities in detail, they speak the same language, they understand the political and cultural background. Without these precious partners, our money is worth nothing.

10.30am. We go a bit deeper into the philosophy of Livelihoods. The fund is unusual compared to other carbon offset programmes in that it goes way further that “just” providing carbon credits: it ensures that there is a high environmental and social value attached to them. In fact, “Livelihoods credits” are not sold on the regular European carbon market, explains Guillaume Bouculat, Finance Director, but on a much smaller voluntary market, where credits are more expensive but can be integrated into an ambitious corporate social responsibility strategy. This is why La Poste chose to join the fund a short time ago, as its Sustainability director, Salvator Erba explains: the group has recently decided to offset 100% of its emissions, and wanted to engage in meaningful, “charismatic” carbon compensation programmes that would enthuse employees. For Schneider Electric, joining the fund was coherent “with [our] own culture of cooperation and [our] environmental strategy”. Gilles Vermot-Desroches, Sustainable Development Director, also insists that the fund’s human element is the most powerful. And Myriam Cohen-Welgryn, Nature Director at Danone, explains that, through Livelihoods, Danone intends to build virtuous circles and work on projects that have a strategic meaning for them as well.

11.00am. And what about the future? Bernard Giraud explains that the next step for all the projects is to help the people make a profit from their production: the mangrove restoration helps biodiversity and brings back fish and shrimps; the tree-planting programmes provide mangos, guavas, coffee, manioc, etc.  Naandi has already started working on this aspect in India, by creating a processing cooperative to turn beans into high-quality, organic coffee. The next step is to find other ideas, for other products and other needs, collaborating closely with the locals to come up with the best possible solution. As for the fund, it wishes to grow a little bigger, with more companies around the table… but not too many. For efficient and healthy decision-making, “the more the merrier” does not necessarily follow.



An interview with an organic addict


2pm. After lunch, we take some time to talk with David Hogg, director of the Livelihoods projects at the Naandi Foundation. A man with a fascinating background: born in New Zealand, educated as a lawyer, he dreamed of agriculture and, at the age of 20, he “spread [his] wings and landed in India”. That was back in the 1970s, and he has not left since. He lived in an ashram for several years, to get acquainted with the richness and the complexity of the country. Then he felt the need to “go out and do something”, and participated in a dairy project in Auroville, an experimental city founded in the late sixties near Pondicherry, around the ideas of community and harmony, a real-life utopia. A few decades later, as he was working with a community, helping them produce, market and sell better-quality coffee, he crossed paths with the Naandi Foundation. “When I joined them in 2009, it was my first steady job in my life!” From his experiences in the 1970s, David has remained convinced that organic is the only way poor people can afford to farm their land: pesticides and chemicals are too expensive, they ruin the ecosystems and in the long run impair revenues.

Within ten years, you can destroy a whole environment. And it is also a human tragedy, it causes farmers to commit suicide: that is the story of unsustainable agriculture.

When asked if he is not discouraged that what he has been advocating for forty years is starting only now to be heard by the rest of the world, he smiles: “I always knew that at some point, the world would have to wake up.” Some may call it faith. In any case, David strives to establish the idea that the developing world cannot take the “chemical route”. But he also warns that the story of bringing in modern agriculture, with its technologies, to the third world, has always been a disaster. “It has always been a top-down approach, in silos. Culturally, it does not work.” In a nutshell, you cannot throw technology or land at people, because it is also the skills that matter: you must train them, educate them, with constant dialogue to really understand what they need. David Hogg also points out that the governments of these countries are subject to intense lobbying from Western companies that care deeply about selling their products and much less about inventing a new agriculture model. “The third world could lead the way, but the question is, between the populations at the bottom and multinational companies, who is going to win the race?” We are forced to leave that question open: it is time for David to head to the fund Council.



A night to celebrate


6.30pm. We are now in the magnificent “Hôtel des Italiens”, a typical Haussmanian building that belongs to LCL bank, the host of the evening event which is to close this “Livelihoods day”. The morning’s speakers are here too: Bernard Giraud, Ajanta Dey, Manoj Kumar, David Hogg, Guillaume Bouculat, Stanislas Pottier and Gilles Vermot-Desroches, among others. But new speakers have also joined us. Christian de Perthuis, founder of the Chair of Climate Economy, focuses on carbon economy to explain that it is “a prototype for a new economy, in which natural capital is no longer a reservoir but a value. We are going to develop new business models that act on both the causes and consequences of climate change.” Muriel Pénicaud, General Manager of Human Resources at Danone, emphasizes the fact that

it works because the company gets as much as it gives. It is a fantastic source of innovation, it motivates employees and brings them new career experiences.

Stanislas Pottier and Gilles Vermot-Desroches support this idea: both insist on the importance of embarking their co-workers in these projects, as working with others opens up companies, gives them new ideas and rejuvenates them.Then the last speaker of the day, Haider El Ali, founder of Oceanium and now Senegal’s Environment Minister, is called upon to take the stage. His face appears on the big screen, live from his region of Casamance. Sound quality is lacking, but before the link breaks down, he just has the time to explain that through the mangrove replantation program, they have “planted trees in people’s minds. You must reach for their hearts in order to awaken their conscience. And when you do, it works, they start replicating. If it continues, the movement will become irreversible.” A hopeful message for a young fund which can already claim two beautiful successes and seems most determined to make the dream of bringing two worlds together come true, taking one step each day.

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