Sustainable Rice Production in Pakistan

Rice is one of the most widely consumed grains in the world, but it is also connected to major social and environmental challenges. When basmati rice from Punjab sailed up as a high-risk crop in 2015, we got engaged: What can value chain actors do to improve the livelihoods of farmers and reduce the environmental impact upstreams? This resulted in a long-term public-private funded partnership where Axfoundation collaborated with actors throughout the value chain. As a result, the Garant brand’s basmati rice is now more sustainably produced, and a formula has been piloted turning aid into sustainable trade.

Agriculture is the mainstay of Pakistan's economy.

Agriculture is the mainstay of Pakistan's economy.

The Issue

The agricultural sector in Pakistan is unregulated and working conditions are harsh. Particularly vulnerable are women, who get paid less than men and often lack influence in decision-making. Climate change has led to harvests failing and groundwater levels diminishing. In 2015, basmati rice from the Punjab region came out as one of the major risk products in Axfood’s human rights risk analysis. Oxfam was assigned to do a poverty study and soon after Axfoundation was approached. Together, we mobilized the value chain actors, and soon after, the Sustainable Rice Production project was initiated.

Our Solution

Together with implementing partner Oxfam Sweden, the Sustainable Rice project was initiated to strengthen women’s influence, improve working conditions and develop sustainable cultivation methods to minimize risks while improving farmers’ incomes. The project set out to make certified basmati rice more accessible to consumers while establishing a formula to replace aid with sustainable trade.

Participants take part in the SRP training.

Participants take part in the SRP training.

“It has been a great experience to witness how women have been empowered through this project.” – Viveka Risberg, Program Director Sustainable Production and Consumption, Axfoundation

Participating women are economically and politically strengthened.

Participating women are economically and politically strengthened.

In order to strengthen farmers’ and workers’ rights the project assisted in the development of farmer organizations, where more than half of the participants were women. This enabled us to focus on the women’s role and rights in rice cultivation.

By involving rice exporters in the project we minimized the use of expensive middlemen and created stronger ties with farmers. The Rice Institute and Agricultural University in Faisalabad also contributed to the project, by assisting with training, education and research inputs.

The project included Multi Stakeholder Platforms, with quarterly meetings in Pakistan, which aimed to advocate for political rights. Through these meetings, rice farmers were given the opportunity to discuss social, economic and environmental challenges with politicians, authorities, civil society organizations and researchers.

Our Work

Axfoundation developed, tested and shared a model aimed at strengthening both farmers’ organizations, actors in the Swedish market and the sustainable rice sector in general. 2,500 farmers and workers in Pakistan were trained in line with a certification standard for rice, the Sustainable Rice Platform, SRP. Throughout the project, the farmers gained direct access to exporting companies instead of selling to local intermediaries. After proven successful, the project came to an end – but both farmers and exporters continue to uphold the new standards.

“Axfoundation aims to spread the Sustainable Rice Platform standard in the Swedish market so that more actors aside from Axfood demand sustainably produced rice.” – Viveka Risberg, Program Director Sustainable Production and Consumption, Axfoundation


The project has proven to be a fruitful model for public-private partnerships due to its holistic ambition, involving the complete value chain. It has paved the way for more sustainably produced basmati rice to consumers and piloted a formula to replace aid with sustainable trade. In line with the SRP standard, rice cultivation practices have been improved, leading to higher productivity, better working conditions and increased incomes for farmers and workers.

One significant outcome of the project has been the active participation of women. In the 25 Grower Organizations that were formed, over 50% of the leading positions were held by women. The project enabled farmers to hold regular meetings with local decision-makers and to gain direct access to exporters, by cutting the middlemen.

In addition, innovative resource-saving technologies were applied and, as a result, farmers saved 30% on production costs and increased productivity by 15%. The SRP farming methods resulted in 30% reduced use of water and 15% reduced Co2 emissions.


farmers trained in sustainable rice cultivation according to the Sustainable Rice Platform standard


grower organizations formed in Pakistan with 2,500 farmers


percent of the leading positions were held by women


percent reduced water usage in rice cultivation


percent reduced Co2-emissions


percent increased productivity


demonstration plots established to train farmers in direct seeding for rice, a resource-saving technology


stitching units established to increase women's income off season


The Sustainable Rice Production Project in Pakistan has been a part of the regional program Gender Transformative and Responsible Agribusiness in Southeast Asia (GRAISEA) funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).

Oxfam International has been the implementing partner through its office in Islamabad. Association for Gender Awareness & Human Empowerment, AGAHE, has been the local operating partner in Punjab.

Co-founders and partners have been grocery retailer Axfood/Dagab, Norwegian food wholesaler Unil (Norgesgruppen), Axfoundation, supplier Rol-Ryz, rice exporters Rice Partners Ltd (RPL), Matco, Galaxy and Atlas in Pakistan. Several actors in Pakistan have also been actively involved, among them the Rice Research Institute, and the University of Agriculture in Faisalabad.

Press and Media

CSR in Practice: Basmati Farmers in Pakistan (SIANI)

The stooped labour of women rice farmers (The Dawn)

Spännande återbesök hos basmatirisodlarna i Pakistan (Axfood)

Början på något nytt för risodlare i Punjab och Kambodja (Garant) 

Ur Regeringens budgetproposition 2019: ”Partnerskap mellan svenska och lokala företag i Asien har bidragit till att förbättra jämställdhet, miljömässig och social hållbarhet samt böndernas inkomster inom risproduktion.” (s. 35)

Projects within Sustainable Production and Consumption

Projects within Future Food