By Audrey Ball
When Monsanto signed on to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) initiative, it committed to collaboratively finding solutions to cross-continental challenges that take on different forms in every geography.
Building resilience and mitigating climate change in different regions requires global partners and tactics tailored to local landscapes. Monsanto India strives to understand and serve the unique needs of its farmer customers and has become a global leader for Monsanto’s climate-smart agriculture efforts.
Agriculture uses 85-90 percent of freshwater in India, a fact that Rakesh Dubey, policy and stakeholder engagement lead for Monsanto India, frames as an important opportunity in finding a solution to water scarcity issues. If the agriculture sector could save 10 percent of India’s water, it would effectively double the water availability for other sectors. The WBCSD – CSA collaboration is taking steps toward these savings.
In India, Climate Smart Agriculture is not just about building resilience to climate change and mitigating negative impacts; it also requires a focus on increasing farmers’ incomes. Together with PepsiCo and university and finance partners, the WBCSD and Monsanto are launching the India Agriculture Tool (IAT) that aims to increase farmer incomes through water saving, which dually decreases resource use and builds resilience to drought. The tool will enable companies sourcing from Indian farmers to better advise the activities of their agriculture suppliers. The IAT uses data to evaluate the viability of practicing drip irrigation and zero tillage and recommends the best crop (potatoes, cotton, sugarcane, or corn) to cultivate in a given location based on key criteria, including farmer income level and water efficiency score.
The IAT offers to solve two important issues. First, without seeing the benefits of adoption, farmers are not willing to change their growing practices. The IAT calculates the projected yield increase and farmer income of adopting the prescribed practices, conveying the business case to farmers. Second, farmers are limited in what practices they can adopt by their income and knowledge capacity. For instance, while zero-till farming results in better water retention and 50 to 60 percent water savings, it is knowledge-intensive and not feasible for inexperienced farmers. The IAT takes into account farmer incomes and the landscape and resources at their disposal to recommend adoption of practices that suit their individual capacity.
Partnerships with the WBCSD and other organizations allow companies to expand their efforts to help farmers. Monsanto India first became a leader in delivering solutions to farmer challenges with the successful launch of the Monsanto Farm AgVisory Service, a mobile advice service providing free guidance to farmer via phone call or SMS. Since, the company became co-chair to the India Water Tool project that in July 2013 launched a free online tool designed to help water users in India respond to challenges by depicting water availability, stress, and quality through spatial maps. The next tool in the pipeline is the IAT.
The India Agriculture Tool will launch at the WBCSD annual Council Meeting in Chennai, India, this October. The meeting will convene CEO leaders of the WBCSD’s 180 member companies to discuss strategic issues related to sustainable development and to decide the council’s priorities for the coming year.
The IAT represents a key step to mapping behavior change necessary to deliver CSA while capturing the savings to the farmer, without whom CSA cannot be achieved. An important feature of the sustainability landscape in India is the development of new solutions to face global challenges, and this role will be crucial towards achieving the ultimate objective of sustainable development.