How support for schools in our benzoin production area of Laos, is inspiring local authorities to invest
The verdant foothills of Laos is where the exotic benzoin is produced, a resin harvested from the ‘Styrax tonkinensis’ tree. Prized for its delicious vanilla scent, this essential raw material is vital to Givaudan’s fragrance formulations. However, the challenge for local communities is awaiting the lengthy seven year growing time before the resin can be harvested. Givaudan is committed to protecting this unique raw material, and to upholding the skills and livelihoods of the local farmers that have grown benzoin for centuries.
Since 2007, Givaudan has partnered with Agroforex Company on the social component of their programme, which supports two districts in Phongsaly province, covering an area of 59 villages involved in styrax forest production.
Within these communities, education is highly valued. Although primary education facilities in the area are generally adequate, the number of secondary schools is insufficient. In many cases, parents are forced to send their children away to secondary school or families move away to places with more facilities. This phenomenon of rural exodus threatens the fabric of social cohesion in Laos and the future of a workforce for styrax plantation and benzoin collection. Committed to this region for the long-term, Givaudan has teamed up with Agroforex Company, who have been present in the region for more than two decades, and who are committed to the long-term sustainability of all aspects of the benzoin supply chain in Laos.
Part of our commitment extends to supporting schools in the area, and, in 2008 and 2010 Givaudan financed the building of schools in Aseuh and Yangteuil. In 2014 our focus was on the extension of the Aseuh secondary school, notably the construction of new teacher dormitories, a fourth classroom and improved sanitary facilities for the growing student population. Since opening in 2008, student attendance at Aseuh has risen enormously, from 38 pupils to 313 in 2014. The enhanced facilities are also attracting more teachers in line with the growing student numbers. These works are due to be completed by mid-2015.
As a partner on the ground, Agroforex Company continually keeps us informed of the conditions at the school. Laetitia, Responsible Sourcing Partnerships Manager at Givaudan explains the complexity of keeping abreast of changes: “Recent modifications to the curriculum meant that children had to stay at school for four years instead of three. As the situation changes in the country, we adapt accordingly and ensure that the same good conditions are upheld. With more children attending the school, more teachers were required, and we realised that their accommodation was no longer adequate, hence why we funded new dormitories. Our implementing partner Agroforex Company makes frequent visits and provides the necessary link with local education authorities in case further modifications are required.”
Givaudan’s primary commitment is to secure a sustainable supply of benzoin for our fragrance formulations. The use of this raw material by our industry ensures additional monetary income for farmers besides their staple crop of rice and vegetables. Laetitia states Givaudan’s commitment: “We are aligned with our local partner’s long-term approach, which is to maintain a specific fallow time for ‘Styrax tonkinensis’, complemented during the first two years with upland rice and red ginger.”
Laetitia explains once more: “Givaudan’s investments have drawn attention of local authorities and catalysed their commitment to the region. As we continue investing and the communities flourish, local authorities are also inspired to finance infrastructure improvements. In 2012, 51 kilometres of road were improved, meaning that these remote villages can be accessed at any time of year. This achievement was followed by a supply of electricity to Aseuh and the construction of a health centre. An open market is now up and running, held every ten days. We really see that the authorities are committed to promoting development in this region. The secondary school, to which we are funding improvements, is keeping the community thriving.”