With the scale and reach of its agricultural sourcing, PepsiCo wants to help farmers across its global supply chain become more sustainable. This is especially true of female farmers, who face significant barriers in what is increasingly being called the “crop gap.”
In a wide-ranging interview with TriplePundit, Christine Daugherty, vice president of global sustainable agriculture and responsible sourcing at PepsiCo, explained why sustainable agriculture—and the empowerment of female farmers in particular—is a central focus for the company.
Daugherty, who grew up in Iowa, right in the middle of the U.S. farm belt, says she recognized early on that the food and agricultural sectors were not making the most of “the immense skill and hard work that women bring to farming,” as she recently shared on the company's blog.
In developing countries, including regions from which PepsiCo sources crops, women represent 43 percent of agricultural labor. Yet, across these regions, much of the work women carry out day after day is done without training, key farming inputs, secure land rights, and often little or even no pay.
With its annual spend on agricultural products of well over $7 billion, PepsiCo is in a position to help change that situation. Earlier this month, the PepsiCo Foundation announced a partnership with CARE to tackle gender equality in agriculture with an $18.2 million investment in She Feeds the World, CARE’s food and nutrition security program aimed at benefitting 50 million female farmers in the developing world.
Research shows that if female farmers had the same access to resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 percent, potentially reducing the number of hungry people in the world by up to 150 million.
“One of the things we are super excited about is how we engage with women in agriculture,” Daugherty told 3p. “If we can engage more women in agriculture globally, we will see increased productivity.”
As PepsiCo works closer with its supply chain, it's important for the company to understand that each region offers its own particular challenges, Daugherty said.
“We adapt best practice to fit the crop and local circumstances,” she told us. “Larger-scale farmers in the U.S. or European Union, for example, probably use pretty highly-sophisticated technology like micro-applications of fertilizer, aerial technology such as drones to look at canopy cover, or precision agriculture that uses the internet of things and AI [artificial intelligence] to give detailed crop information. We want to know how they are using that to improve soil health and water stewardship.”
The approach will be different for farmers in developing countries who may need more support in accessing technology and in building capacity to adopt more sustainable agricultural practices, she explained.
That became clear during Daugherty’s recent trip to Southeast Asia, where she visited a female farmer in Thailand who grows potatoes for PepsiCo. The farmer wanted to increase crop yield while cutting costs. Like many in Southeast Asia, she used water-guzzling flood irrigation. With the help of PepsiCo and local partners, she switched to drip irrigation, which uses 60 to 70 percent less water. This was already a win, but then the farmer went a step further and installed solar panels to produce the energy necessary to operate the irrigation pump.
“That’s a great example of engaging at the farmer’s level and immediately seeing the yield increase with the next crop. And to showcase her innovation, we open up her farm to other local farmers who can see the benefit of advanced sustainable farming practices,” Daugherty explained.
PepsiCo has 95 of these demonstration farms globally and plans to expand further. On these farms, a portion of land is set aside to introduce new farming practices and technologies, like new irrigation systems or better nutrient management practices, while the rest of the farm acts as a control for comparison, Daugherty explained. The company constantly measures key sustainability and business indicators, including yield and quality.
“Peer-to-peer influencing is often the best means of creating change and advancing SFP practices and outcomes,” she said.
PepsiCo is not alone among leading food and beverage companies to prioritize sustainable agriculture. As TriplePundit has reported, the global food industry is undergoing increased pressure, not least from consumers, to make sustainability a key ingredient in feeding an estimated 9.8 billion people by 2050.
Such efforts are necessary to feed a world with a surging population, which will require more food. In turn, therein lies the risk of developing more farmland that could impose increased pressure on forests and other ecosystems. According to a recent report from the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet and Health, farmers are central to a global planetary health diet that is healthy for both people and planet. Just look at these following statistics. Agricultural land occupies nearly 40 percent of global land. Food production is responsible for up to 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and 70 percent of fresh water use. Land conversion for food production is the single most important driver of biodiversity loss.
“We recognize that our global food system faces significant challenges, with increased pressure on the land, climate change and food security, all of which are putting serious demands on producing food responsibly with the resources we have,” Daugherty said. “With our large agricultural footprint, we want to be part of the solution to make an impactful change on the food system.”
Daugherty says she is confident that modern agriculture is up to the task of increasing food production without expanding agricultural land.
“We can produce the food we need with the resources and the land we have,” she concluded. “But we will need to use innovative technology to help bring along our farmers to utilize less resources and make sure that we respect both environmental and human capital.”
Image credit: Caroline Joe/CARE
Based in southwest Florida, Amy has written about sustainability and the Triple Bottom Line for over 20 years, specializing in sustainability reporting, policy papers and research reports for multinational clients in pharmaceuticals, consumer goods, ICT, tourism and other sectors. She also writes for Ethical Corporation and is a contributor to Creating a Culture of Integrity: Business Ethics for the 21st Century. Connect with Amy on LinkedIn.