World Food Day: How Big Companies Support Smallholder Farmers

By: Denise Knight, Director of Sustainable Agriculture at The Coca-Cola Company

Can mangos and passion fruit change the world? Innovative collaboration with smallholder mango and passion fruit farmers is enhancing their incomes and helping ensure the long-term viability and sustainability of the local fruit industry, while creating a supply chain model with the potential for scale and replication.

In many parts of the world, meeting the food needs of the local population is already an enormous challenge. And yet by 2050 to meet the needs of an estimated 9 billion people, global food demand is expected to double. With that growth comes added pressure to an already strained agriculture structure, making sustainable farming and food production a clear and essential need.

Today – World Food Day (#WFD2012) – is a day to recognize the importance of smallholder farmers around the world. Approximately half a billion low-income, smallholder farmers and their families produce 80 percent of the food supply in developing countries.

Today is also a call-to-action:

– A call to action to work together to spur innovation in sustainable agriculture.

– A call to action to support smallholder farmers and agricultural cooperatives around the world.

– A call to action for companies to invest in today to create a sustainable future tomorrow.

Coca-Cola has supported more than 20 sustainable agricultural projects helping smallholder farmers around the world to improve their incomes and reduce the environmental impact of farming practices. These initiatives have highlighted challenges and best practices that can have global implications despite an agricultural landscape as varied as the soil, the weather, the crop and the farm communities.

Local connections matter

No matter where in the world you may be — interconnections in the local community are as important as innovation for the success of sustainable agriculture.

In Kenya and Uganda, understanding how the local farmers worked together helped identify gaps and opportunities for better economic outcomes. Called Project Nurture, approximately 42,000 smallholder farmers – 14,000of them women – have received local training on business and governance, crop protocols, and agronomic practices. The local smallholder farmers worked together, with technical guidance provided by TechnoServe, a nonprofit that focuses on alleviating poverty, to create Producer Business Groups (PBG). By organizing PBGs, the mango and passion fruit farmers have improved their positioning with local processors and increased their access to credit.

Project Nurture also links them to new markets, such as those provided by Coca-Cola’s locally produced juices, as well as fresh domestic and fresh export markets.

Since the project launch in 2010, the $11.5 million partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has enabled growers to improve their competitiveness, sell over 36,000 metric tons of fresh fruit, and increase productivity with the introduction of two new mango varieties which are being used in local Minute Maid juice products. Through these efforts farmers are expected to double their fruit income by 2014.

In just a few short years, the Project Nurture model has been replicated in Haiti and other countries.

Addressing a key challenge: Freshwater ecosystems

Local connections that allow smallholder farmers to share practices and drive market improvements are part of the equation for improving sustainable agriculture practices. Another key challenge is sustainable use of environmental resources, such as water. Agriculture accounts for approximately 70 percent of worldwide freshwater withdrawals.

In KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, Project Khula is leveraging local mentors to work with smallholder farmers on better farm management practices and help conserve freshwater resources. The World Wildlife Fund is managing Project Khula (which means growth in Zulu), with goals of doubling smallholder sugarcane farmer yields and income, while reducing the farm impact on freshwater resources, establishing a monitoring and evaluation system, and identifying and removing invasive plants species that harm freshwater ecosystems.

Through Project Khula, trainers work with the cooperatives to map farmland and create appropriate contours for proper erosion control and drainage and to eliminate pre- and post-harvest burning. Additionally, this work expands the use of an integrated pest management system using natural plant pheromones rather than pesticides to control insect pests.

In 2011, the project worked with small growers to establish two cooperatives, engaging 97 farmers on 100 hectares of land. These cooperatives organize farmers into a larger operating area that improves productivity for member farmers and reduces the environmental impact of sugarcane production. The project hopes to scale to over 3,000 small scale growers on 3,400 hectares.

Abiding by Principles

As we invest in these and other projects to help farmers implement agricultural practices that protect the land for long-term production and create better outcomes and livelihoods, companies dependent upon the future of agriculture must also take action.

The Coca-Cola Company, for example, developed a set of Sustainable Agriculture Guiding Principles. The principles set expectations for ingredient suppliers to address sustainability issues specific to agriculture, such as use of pesticides and optimization of fertilizer applications. They encourage growing practices that protect water resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, build healthier soils and preserve biodiversity. These agriculture specific principles complement the broader Supplier Guiding principles, which communicate the Company’s values and emphasize the importance of responsible workplace practices that respect human rights.

Adopting these principles and creating partnerships with small farmers around the world are helping to create a future in which sustainable agriculture is no longer an investment in innovation – but a mainstay in food production, land management and better living conditions. From farm to table, organizations are collaborating with local communities and non-profit partners to drive new farming and production models that can create a more sustainable future and take action to help alleviate the world food crisis and create new economic opportunities.

Increasingly, we all understand that the story of sustainable agriculture is the story of the critical connection between farms, communities and our products. Helping smallholder farmers in Africa is one way we are supporting sustainable agriculture practices to create better outcomes for today and tomorrow.

Denise Knight is the Director of Sustainable Agriculture at The Coca-Cola Company, based in Atlanta, Georgia.  Her responsibilities include leading corporate efforts on Sustainable Agriculture to grow the business by meeting customer and consumer expectations, mitigating supply risks, and creating shared value for farmers, communities, partners, and the Company.  

TCCC works with non-profit partners including the World Wildlife Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and has launched over 40 agricultural initiatives in Africa, Australia, South America, Thailand, Turkey, India, China and North America

[Image credit: Arti Sandhu, Flickr]

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