India is the world’s largest consumer of sugar. The country’s sugarcane industry, second only to cotton in size, relies on more than six million smallholder farmers and countless labourers to produce its sugar.
However, sugarcane farming is highly water-intensive, and recent years have witnessed significant depletion of ground water resources—threatening food security, economic growth and livelihoods of the farmers. Solidaridad, along with its consortium of partners, brought together multiple stakeholders in a policy consultation event on Friday to deliberate on the moot issues and the way forward for sustainability in sugarcane farming in India.
The diverse cross-sectoral participation led to a milieu of strategic discussions on creating an enabling environment for resource-efficient supply chains in the sugarcane industry.
The virtual advocacy event was designed to facilitate exchange of thoughts and ideas amongst sustainability practitioners, sugar companies, sugar mills, local and state governments, financial institutions and civil society organisations from India, Netherlands and across different parts of the world, working on a wide range of issues related to sustainable development, agriculture, water efficiency and business responsibility in the sugarcane sector. The event centred around influencing, advocating and exploring business and policy action strategies for sustainable and inclusive development in India’s agriculture sector.
The emphasis was on taking learnings from current sustainable initiatives in India to develop recommendations on various thematic challenges, such as:
Income and food security of farmers in the context of water and climate change,
Use of inclusive technology and artificial intelligence (AI) in agriculture,
Access to finance for farmers to adopt mechanisation and water-efficient practices,
Issues and opportunities with sustainable certification in India
The shared experience of implementing an FDW Sugarcane programme in India with a consortium of partners over the past years has led Solidaridad to take this step forward in building a platform to share the experiences and achievements from the programme.
Supported by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO), Solidaridad launched the water-efficient sugarcane production programme during 2014-2015 in the states of Karnataka and Telangana in India. The FDW Sugarcane programme on increasing water-use efficiency in sugarcane farming in India was one of the first public-private partnership (PPP) programmes. It is currently running in its sixth year of implementation on the ground.
Implemented by Solidaridad, the PPP programme comprises sugarcane companies, such as NSL Sugars Limited and Natems Sugar Private Limited and their respective sugar mills; knowledge partners Vasantdada Sugar Institute (VSI) and Osmania University; and technological partner eLEAF, which facilitates satellite mapping of the sugarcane plots for information on water, crop, crop-water productivity through robust monitoring systems.
The programme aims to address over-exploitation of groundwater resources and alternatively focus on water-efficient practices. The objective of the FDW Sugarcane programme is to create a comprehensive and powerful impact at the ground level to support 35,000 farmers in sustainable agricultural practices by providing regular agriculture and financial literacy trainings, exposure visits to different sugarcane growing states, support in the uptake of latest technologies, development of local entrepreneurs and building robust infrastructures. The programme has so far been able to increase sugarcane productivity, reduce production cost and raise the farmers’ income from sugarcane production in the two states.
Solidaridad, along with its consortium of partners, organised this multi-stakeholder sugarcane and water event by bringing together various stakeholders from the water and sugarcane industry. Sugar mills, sugar companies, agricultural universities, local and state government, financial institutions and NGOs alike were present at the virtual event today to discuss the opportunities and possibilities of building a more sustainable and resilient sugarcane sector. The diverse cross-sectoral participation created a milieu of strategic discussions on the way forward to the creation of an enabling environment for a resource-efficient supply chain in the sugarcane industry.
Embarking on this initiative, Dr. Shatadru Chattopadhayay, Managing Trustee, Solidaridad said “Sugarcane is historically called ‘honey without bee’. It is the crop of the future with many potential uses from food, bagasse, fuel, fodder to even paper providing income source to around six millions of small farmers in India. However, sugarcane sector faces significant sustainability challenges relating to water use, soil health, productivity, profitability and smallholder livelihoods. The situation is exacerbated by increased rainfall variability due to climate change, which may reduce sugarcane yields by up to 30%. Solidaridad works across the sugarcane value chain from farmers, mills to sugar buying companies and financial institutions to make sugarcane sector more sustainable. Solidaridad experts also demonstrate that farmers and mills can increase profit while taking care of the environment. So far, We have achieved an increase in farmers average productivity between 20 to 40 per cent while saving billions of litres of water.”
A Noble Step towards Sustainable Agriculture
India’s sugarcane industry relies on more than six million smallholder farmers to produce its sugar. Due to small farm size and the associated inefficiencies, Indian productivity lags far behind other parts of the world. Solidaridad has been working with all the stakeholders of the industry to improve productivity, increase water efficiency and deploy climate-smart agricultural practices throughout the country.
One component, the VSI training programme, prepared by Solidaridad with funding from PepsiCo, and supported by the International Finance Corporation and Olam, enrolled 400 women from the Kolhapur and Belgaum Districts of Maharashtra and Karnataka states. Sugarcane is a labour-intensive crop and more than 60% of that work is done by women.
The curriculum emphasised on water management, soil health, pest control and fertiliser optimisation and other good agricultural practices, which prepared the women to improve farm productivity. This new-found knowledge had a significant effect on their roles within their families, leading to increased confidence and greater self-esteem for many of them. The ability to improve their family’s wellbeing through greater productivity of their farms has been empowering.
India is reported to have the highest groundwater depletion rates in the world, and, in Northern India, it is at crisis levels. With agriculture as the dominant consumer of water, it is imperative that action be taken now, at a national scale, not only to reduce consumption but also to harvest rainwater. Solidaridad is expanding its sugarcane programme to address this crisis. But this effort needs the sustained support of the companies buying sugar produced by these farmers. The six million sugarcane farmers, the majority of whom are women, must be enlisted in this effort.
The programme underway in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madya Pradesh is working with around 25,000 farmers. Other Solidaridad’s programmes in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere involve another 300,000 sugarcane farmers.
H.E. Marten van den Berg, Ambassador, Embassy of the Kingdom of The Netherlands says,“India and the Netherlands are committed to contribute towards global sustainable development thereby contributing towards the Sustainable Development Goals. We’re keen to work together with India on shared challenges and joint, innovative and cost effective solutions. Public-private partnerships between India and the Netherlands create win-win opportunities. In the field of water, several Dutch companies have been active in India for years who have reinforced several successful sustainable partnerships between India and the Netherlands.”
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