In Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state of India, DCM Shriram, IFC, Solidaridad, and Coca-Cola partnered to introduce the “Meetha Sona Unnati” project. In this crowded northern state of more than 210 million people, Meetha Sona Unnati is focused on sustainable sugarcane development. Partners have been working to help address the challenges of soil health, the increasing cost of cultivation, and poor yields, all confronting smallholder sugarcane farmers in the area.

“Sustainable Agriculture is one of our main focus areas, which is also core to our business”, says Ms. Shubha Shekhar, Director and Head of Corporate Social Responsibility & Sustainability, Coca-Cola India & South West Asia. “There are more than 100000 farmers in our value chain here in India and we are committed to working responsibly with them in developing and implementing crop-specific programs, improving yields and protecting natural resources.”

Meetha Sona Unnati invests in training and capacity building for farmers, especially women farmers, and strengthens the extension services and mill management systems to accelerate adoption of sustainable production standards. Interventions undertaken through the project include autumn planting methods, water efficiency techniques, mechanization, and the launch of Mobile Van Theatre (MVT).

MVT offers video documentaries on sustainable agriculture practices to 8,000 farmers a month. The training module covers water savings and efficiencies, and social and human rights related to farming. Another important component of the project is educating on the negative impacts of the age-old practice of crop-residue burning, which is a health hazard and a source of pollution.

Through Meetha Sona Unnati, at the end of 2016, 7,995 lead farmers had been trained on key interventions; 794 harvest workers had been trained on health and safety; 58 rural entrepreneurs were identified and trained on financial literacy, access to credits, loans and trade-specific information; and a total of 53,945 farmers had been trained through MVT.

Over the next three years, Meetha Sona Unnati hopes to reach an additional 48,000 sugarcane farmers who supply four DCM Shriram sugar mills across five districts of Uttar Pradesh: Lakhimpur, Hardoi, Farukkhabad, Sitapur and Shahajahanpur. The envisioned impact includes having conducted training on good agriculture practices (GAP) and human and social workplace rights; 35,000 hectares under GAP, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and efficient water-use; and improved demand-side water efficiency.

“While Coca-Cola purchases sugar from some of the DCM Shriram mills, project outreach and interventions extend beyond the company’s sourcing area, positively influencing practices of a larger number of farmers and farming area,” said Shekhar. “Our environment doesn’t differentiate between sourcing areas or boundaries. Good practices, or bad practices, impact others close by and at a distance. Sustainable agriculture practices are important for all.”

Sustainably sourcing sugarcane is part of Coca-Cola’s larger system-wide goal, set in 2013, to sustainably source its priority ingredients by 2020. Coca-Cola priority ingredients include cane and beet sugar, high fructose corn syrup, stevia, tea, coffee, oranges, lemons, grapes, apples, mangos, pulp and paper fiber for packaging, palm oil and soy. In 2016, Coca-Cola sourced over 1 million tons of more sustainable sugar.

  Meetha Sona Unnati Interventions

  Autumn planting methods:

  • Intercropping: involves growing two or more crops in close proximity to produce greater yield on a piece of land, making use of resources or ecological processes that would otherwise not be utilized by a single crop.
  • Soil management: concerns all operations, practices, and treatments used to protect soil and enhance its performance, including soil conservation, soil amendment, and optimal soil health.

  Water efficiency techniques:

  • Trash mulching: provides nutrients for plants, locks in moisture which can save water, forms a barrier against weeds, and can help insulate roots of vulnerable plants from cold.
  • Furrow irrigation: digs trenches or “furrows” between crop rows in a field; water that goes down the furrows seeps vertically and horizontally to refill the soil reservoir.

  Mechanization:

  • Trash shredding: uses sugarcane as a biomass resource; can be converted to energy and used as off-season fuel for year-round power generation at sugar mills.
  • Agri-Technology Service Providers (ATSP): accelerates adoption of sustainable production standards and good sugarcane cultivation practices; local farmers selected as ATSPs, creating sustainable businesses.