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DISCOVER SUSTAINABLE PALM OIL WITH GREENEARTH AGRO

Courtesy of Greenearth Agro

February, 24th 2021

Few plant products are as reviled by sustainability-lovers as palm oil. How can a product directly related to the deforestation of the world’s greatest rainforests be sustainable? Rushank Bardolia has the answer.

Words By José M. Sainz-Maza

About
GreenEarth Agro

Rushank Bardolia is an Indian-born businessman based in Luxembourg who, after working in engineering and finance for many years, decided to leave the cold corporate world and turn to something with a direct positive impact. This is how, after traveling across Africa for a while, he ended setting up a sustainable palm oil factory in Ghana. 

The first time I heard his inspiring story was at a dinner with friends back in December attended by Laura Schlensak, the current Director of Communications for Greenearth Agro, Rushank’s company. Opportunities like this don’t come up often. One thing led to another, and just three weeks later I had the pleasure of interviewing the adventurous entrepreneur (online, of course, as COVID-19 is still hitting Europe). 

Rushank has a youthful, carefree appearance, along with a smile that reflects a passionate and curious mind. “If you are wondering how I ended up involved in the palm oil business, the truth is that I came into it almost as a coincidence. Years before, I had left my home country, India, to study finance in France, as I had noticed that you could make a lot of money with banking and trading. However, I came to realize that this was not for me, I wanted to work on more tangible things,” he tells me shortly after we start our conversation. 

Courtesy of GreenEarth Agro

“I spent some time traveling the world. After visiting different countries and considering various business options, such as investing in solar panels in Zanzibar, I arrived in Ghana and locals told me about palm oil and how they have been using it for centuries. This made me continue researching since I also used to take this oil as essentially negative, as you surely do. Not to worry, this is a common thing,” he smiles. “In the end, as with so many things, the negative is not the product itself but what we do with it.” This is how Rushank left the comfort of his life in Luxembourg and moved to this African country that was new to him.

He explains to me how growing oil palm produces much more oil per hectare of land than any other vegetable oil, such as coconut or olive oil. “What needs to be changed is the exploitation model and its use,” Rushank states when asked about the role of oil palm plantations as a driver of deforestation. I am well aware that it is a question he hears often. “We have to stop refining oil to include it in every product, use the best quality pure oil, and give the right place in the supply chain to the local farmers who have been using this oil for ages,” he tells me. 

Rushank Bardolia is an Indian-born businessman based in Luxembourg who, after working in engineering and finance for many years, decided to leave the cold corporate world and turn to something with a direct positive impact. This is how, after traveling across Africa for a while, he ended setting up a sustainable palm oil factory in Ghana. 

The first time I heard his inspiring story was at a dinner with friends back in December attended by Laura Schlensak, the current Director of Communications for Greenearth Agro, Rushank’s company. Opportunities like this don’t come up often. One thing led to another, and just three weeks later I had the pleasure of interviewing the adventurous entrepreneur (online, of course, as COVID-19 is still hitting Europe). 

Rushank has a youthful, carefree appearance, along with a smile that reflects a passionate and curious mind. “If you are wondering how I ended up involved in the palm oil business, the truth is that I came into it almost as a coincidence. Years before, I had left my home country, India, to study finance in France, as I had noticed that you could make a lot of money with banking and trading. However, I came to realize that this was not for me, I wanted to work on more tangible things,” he tells me shortly after we start our conversation. 

“I spent some time traveling the world. After visiting different countries and considering various business options, such as investing in solar panels in Zanzibar, I arrived in Ghana and locals told me about palm oil and how they have been using it for centuries. This made me continue researching since I also used to take this oil as essentially negative, as you surely do. Not to worry, this is a common thing,” he smiles. “In the end, as with so many things, the negative is not the product itself but what we do with it.” This is how Rushank left the comfort of his life in Luxembourg and moved to this African country that was new to him.

He explains to me how growing oil palm produces much more oil per hectare of land than any other vegetable oil, such as coconut or olive oil. “What needs to be changed is the exploitation model and its use,” Rushank states when asked about the role of oil palm plantations as a driver of deforestation. I am well aware that it is a question he hears often. “We have to stop refining oil to include it in every product, use the best quality pure oil, and give the right place in the supply chain to the local farmers who have been using this oil for ages,” he tells me. 

Courtesy of GreenEarth Agro

Courtesy of GreenEarth Agro

Friendly Agriculture,
Social Commitment

From Rushank’s point of view, more emphasis should be placed on using products differently than we are currently doing. Most of the people in the world cannot use avocado oil, argan oil or other premium oils, and they need access to inexpensive, quality products. “Affordability is an extremely important factor, and for this, we must stop looking at things only from a first-world perspective,” the Indian entrepreneur says. “The problem is that people with money do not want to eat simple products but others that require ingredients with a great environmental impact. This is a consumer problem and smearing palm oil is not the solution.”

“Palm oil is really versatile, and it can be obtained from both the pulp and the kernel of the fruit; the latter is the one we produce at Greenearth Agro,” Rushank continues. “We work with 50 farmers who have their own land and manage their own plantations, and we buy the product from them at a fair price. As we try to maximize the process, we want farmers to produce as much as they can with the resources they have, but without resulting in unsustainable growth or worse conditions for them. Our goal is to expand the network of farmers and increase the welfare of the local population.”

Greenearth Agro currently has 40 employees, and from its headquarters in Ajumako, Ghana, its activity has focused since 2018 on the economic inclusion of the inhabitants of the area and the promotion of sustainable harvesting practices. “After being in Europe for years, living in this rural part of Africa has been a challenge for me. Perhaps the most difficult thing is living without electricity 7 or 8 hours a day,” Rushank reflects. “I don’t run a charity, but empowering the local population and making sure my business has a positive impact is essential to me.” He then tells me how he has financed a computer center, sponsored the local soccer association, and created a daycare center where working mothers can leave their children. “Nothing can be done without money, and it is by revitalizing economic activity in the area that we can drive change.”

Regarding the near future, Rushank is positive and tells me with a wide smile that Greenearth Agro has been selected by Luxembourg Blockchain Lab, an initiative organized by the Government of Luxembourg along with various companies to fund applied blockchain technology projects. “It’s about certifying the transparency of the entire supply chain and ensuring the conditions in which palm oil has been produced,” he shares. “This is crucial since international certifications such as RSPO are incredibly expensive and can only be afforded by large companies.”

Once again, some of the keys to a sustainable supply chain seem clear to me: adequate working conditions, focus on local production, traceability… In this case, avoiding large monoculture plantations run by multinational corporations to foster instead environmentally-friendly agriculture with a clear commitment to social development. With these reflections, my conversation with Rushank Bardolia comes to an end. 

“Perhaps more people will soon realize that there is much we can do to safeguard our forests and still provide all the world’s people with the food and resources they need,” he says before our cameras turn off.