An interview with Ricardo Vasques, General Director of Danone Waters Brazil, on the Livelihoods-Caruanas project in Rio de Janeiro.
Bonafont, a brand of the Danone group, operates a mineral water factory in Tingua, located at 60 km upstream of Rio de Janeiro. With the Livelihoods-Caruanas project, supported by the Livelihoods Fund for Family Farming and the Sebrae, Bonafont will enable smallholder farmers living in and around Tingua to adopt a 100% chemical-free agriculture to preserve the watershed. This will result in the creation of the biggest organic food production hub of Rio de Janeiro. Ricardo Vasques, General Director of Danone Waters Brazil explains the motivations of his company for engaging in this project.
Livelihoods Venture: What are the reasons that led Bonafont to engage in the Livelihoods-Caruanas project in Tingua?
Ricardo Vasques: Tingua is the newest facility that we opened in Brazil to enter Rio de Janeiro’s market. It is currently our main factory for Rio. In the future, it will become our biggest plant in Brazil as we have a lot of water capacity there.
The Livelihoods-Caruanas project is really important for the continuity of our business as water is our main asset. The underground water we extract is the water that we bottle. Having pure natural water is therefore decisive. We are going beyond the strict laws enforced by the government to preserve the water level in the watershed. Our project is focused on the long-term conservation of the water quality. Most of Tingua’s watershed is in a protected area, so, the water quality is currently unaltered. Our aim is to make sure this situation continues.
LV: The Livelihoods-Caruanas project will create the biggest organic food production of Rio de Janeiro. This may seem quite far from Bonafont’s daily business?
R.V: Protecting the water resources is obviously beneficial to our business. The question is how to achieve this by involving the local people to improve their lives and sustain the economy around the plant. It is key to work with farmers as everything that is spread on the ground goes underground. With the Livelihoods-Caruanas project, we can do all this. We are preserving the watershed by making sure farmers are not using anything which could alter the quality of Tingua’s water. And to do this, we are providing them with the necessary training, equipment and support. With organic farming, we are sure that no toxic residue will permeate the watershed in the future while farmers are living in good conditions thanks to higher prices and better access to markets. And we are more than happy that this project enables the farms in Tingua to become the biggest organic food production hub in Rio. This is fully in line with Danone’s ambition “One Planet, One Health”.
LV: What were Bonafont’s motivations for partnering with the Livelihoods Fund and the Sebrae?
R.V: My team knows a lot about water but less about agriculture. With the Livelihoods Fund and the Sebrae, we have partners who have the experience and know-how to work with the farmers. Their support was necessary to give us confidence in the results the project will deliver.
Most of all, the investment model proposed by the Livelihoods Fund was decisive for us. Brazil is facing a tough economic situation and the relevance of putting money into a sustainability project now was a difficult question to answer. In the Livelihoods-Caruanas project, the pre-financing is provided by the Livelihoods Fund. In this way, we can focus on making the company grow without cutting back our sustainability ambitions. If Bonafont had to support all the investment by itself, it would have been difficult for us to do this project.
Moreover, we have an eight-year commitment in this project and we will pay back the Livelihoods Fund according to the results of the project. This may seem a long time but taking care of the water is taking care of the backbone of our company and this is a lifetime mission. Therefore, even at the end of these eight years, we will continue investing in the local communities. The Livelihoods-Caruanas project is the first of its kind for Bonafont, but not the last. Our ambition is to do the same for all our other plants.
Photos: Louis Perrin/ Livelihoods Funds.