The Institut de l’Elevage (French Livestock Institute, or “Idele”) is a research organisation which aims to improve the competitiveness of herbivore farmers. This involves working with the farmers themselves but also along the entire chain, upstream of agriculture all the way to consumers. With regard to this incredibly broad range of topics, Idele provides scientific expertise, conducts studies and experiments, provides coaching, advice and training to farmers, and more.
Over the past few years, Danone has set up a close partnership with Idele centred on two projects for the Danone Ecosystem Fund. The first one is called “Horizon 2015”:
it aims at strengthening the relationship between Danone and its producers by providing them with help to improve their farms, based on an entrepreneurial approach.
In these uncertain times, “Horizon 2015” believes that if farmers are given support as business owners (through coaching, training and funding), and if Danone manages to have a calm and meaningful relationship with them, the milk industry may somehow be able to absorb the shocks of the economic crisis.
The second partnership, “Reine Mathilde”, is named after Mathilde of Flandres, the wife of William the Conqueror, and is located in Basse-Normandie region. It was initiated by Stonyfield France, Danone’s organic subsidiary. Its aim is to build a strong supply chain for organic products in the region by helping farmers convert to organic farming. Turning a traditional farm into one that complies with the standards of organic agriculture poses many challenges in terms of time, money and expertise. “Reine Mathilde” supports those farmers that are willing to take this step, with the hope of making the region a hub for organic milk in France.
To better understand how a large company like Danone collaborates with scientific organisations such as the Institute for Livestock Farming, we asked a few questions of Adélaïde Gros, who is a project manager at Idele, regarding both “Horizon 2015” and “Reine Mathilde”. Here are her views on a fruitful partnership.
For each of the two projects, what is the role of Idele and how has your collaboration with Danone developed?
The “Horizon 2015” project was put together by Danone, in partnership with Idele, which brought to the table its expertise in project development and management. On a daily basis, we steer the business and act as an interface between Danone and the agricultural development organisations working in the field.
The “Reine Mathilde” project was also initiated by Danone (by Daniel Tirat, Managing Director of Stonyfield France, to be precise) and was developed in cooperation with Idele. It is a bit different from the other project in the sense that it centres on the ecosystem instead of focusing mainly on farmers. This means that we also work with other dairy plants as well as with consultancies for organic agriculture suppliers, veterinarians, and the region. The entire project focuses on laying the groundwork for organic milk farming.
How did you establish this connection? What is the history of Danone and Idele?
It is Danone that called on Idele, because they wanted to support and help their producers
It is Danone that called on Idele, because they wanted to support and help their producers and we had tools that seemed relevant to helping them achieve that. It is important to bear in mind that, according to the principles of the Danone Ecosystem Fund, there must always be a third party, in addition to Danone and the project managers, to lead the operations. We are here to play that role.
What does Idele bring to the table?
In both cases, I think Danone called on us because of the neutrality that we represent, and because of our expertise. Collaboration is not always easy; it is something that we must progressively get used to. But that is also why these projects are so rewarding and innovative! We bring many different people with different concerns to the table: agricultural development organisations that are working in the field, the French Livestock Institute, which has more of a research approach, and Danone, which has a need for efficiency. So it all comes down to being relevant, efficient and dedicated to producers.
And what does this collaboration provide to Idele?
Danone has very different methods from our own, and there is a lot we can learn from that. For instance, we do not have the same relationship to time: Danone has an ability to react that we do not have, they often have to work quickly and change directions much faster than we do. Of course, this partnership also fosters a wealth of ideas. When you share expertise, there is always so much you can learn from someone who is different from you.
Is this kind of partnership a typical one for you?
It is starting to be so, yes. We used to be funded mainly by the Ministry of Agriculture. Those funds still exist, obviously, but they are decreasing, and the proportion of private funding is increasing. We increasingly rely on these partnerships.
How do you see the future of your work with Danone and with these two projects?
We are only halfway through “Horizon 2015” and “Reine Mathilde”, so there is still a lot to do. Our main concern is to see these projects to completion, and then also to prepare for what comes next. The funds are not going to last forever, so our challenge now is to ensure that our work has an impact, that it is sustainable and will have long-lasting effects.