Over the years, PepsiCo India's efforts helped more than double tomato yields, introduced “processing quality” potato varieties, initiated contract farming for the export of basmati rice and introduced critical food processing technology. This grass-roots capability and expertise in agriculture are helping the company achieve its vision of Positive Water Balance by 2009.
The beverage and bottled water industries are popular targets for critics who portray them as major factors in water depletion, but actual water use data reveal a very different picture.
In India, all industry accounts for about 6% of total water use. Within that 6%, the bottled water and soft drinks industry accounts for about four-hundredths of 1%.
In comparison, agriculture accounts for over 80% of total water use. Given these facts, it became obvious that to have a significant impact on water conservation at the macro level, farming must use water more efficiently.
In 2003, PepsiCo began its efforts to achieve Positive Water Balance by 2009.
It “revalued” water as a resource across the organization. This caused a comprehensive movement to conserve and optimize water usage within the manufacturing process (or the debit side of the water balance equation).
The multi-pronged approach across manufacturing plants included innovative reuse and recycling initiatives in the manufacturing process that focused on the reduction of water use.
In the last five years, these initiatives have enabled PepsiCo India to reduce water use in manufacturing plants by over 60%, and in the last two years alone the company has saved over 2 billion liters of water.
Having significantly reduced the “debit” side of the equation, PepsiCo turned its attention to earning the “credits” needed to achieve Positive Water Balance. Across its network of manufacturing facilities the company constructed rain and roof water harvesting structures.
It initiated a variety of community water projects, and partnered with The Energy Resources Institute (TERI) of India to launch comprehensive watershed management programs in geographically diverse locations. Then PepsiCo began exploring the untapped potential for significant water reductions through interventions in agriculture.
Coincidentally, at the same time the Punjab State Government approached PepsiCo to jointly establish the largest citrus propagation nursery in the world. The project was consistent with Punjab 's desire to convert fields from rice and wheat cycles to horticulture, which can reduce water consumption by 1.5 million liters/hectare, while raising farm incomes. Clearly the government was also concerned about water use in agriculture.
PepsiCo was already engaged in contract farming of basmati and other paddy-grown grains. However, a serendipitous delay in the arrival of seed three years ago led the company to recognize a huge water-saving opportunity.
Generally, rice and various other grains are grown by first cultivating the seed in a nursery and then manually transplanting it to a field “puddled” with three to four inches of water. The late seed meant that there was no time for the nursery stage. Hence the company decided to sow the seeds directly in the fields, recognizing that while the yield might be low, it would be sufficient for undertaking trials the following year.
In fact, the yield was higher as the density of seeding was higher. The expected problems with germination did not occur, though weeding had to be increased.
Over the last three years, PepsiCo India has conducted trials of various rice varieties in farmers' fields to validate the technology. A seeding machine which can sow at a specified gap and at a uniform depth has also been developed.
Repeated direct seeding trials have demonstrated water savings of 30%. Traditional field irrigation helps in stunting weed growth, and this was alternatively achieved by pre-treatment with select weedicides.
PepsiCo is working to share the results of the direct seeding trials with more farmers. The water saved by this “small change” of converting just 1,800 hectares of paddy to direct seeding cultivation would exceed the quantity of water PepsiCo uses to manufacture its beverages and snacks in the country.
In other words, this single initiative has the potential to deliver Positive Water Balance for PepsiCo India – and provide vast water savings for a nation in which this natural resource is scarce.