USAID and PepsiCo Work Together to Unlock Women’s Economic Opportunities in India

PepsiCo and USAID have partnered to develop new gender-responsive on-farm approaches that generate data and insights that will make a compelling business case for scaling investments in women’s economic empowerment within agricultural supply chains in India and around the world.

Uttar Pradesh is the most populated state and one of the most fertile agricultural areas in India. Its largely agrarian economy is made up of large commercial and smallholder farms across the region that produce sugar, oilseeds, wheat, potato and other staples. Nearly half of all households in the state depend on income from agriculture to support their livelihoods.

Agronomic communities in Uttar Pradesh are patriarchal and socially conservative. Although women make up most of the agricultural workforce in Uttar Pradesh, their roles on the farm are typically limited to lower-skill manual and day labor tasks, such as sorting potatoes.

Farming communities in Uttar Pradesh are also experiencing the stresses of climate change, creating challenges for soil and watershed health that jeopardize farm yields and livelihoods. These climate threats have prompted a strong interest in more sustainable and regenerative farming approaches.

PepsiCo and USAID’s partnership equips women in potato supply chains

Uttar Pradesh is a strategic sourcing region for PepsiCo, producing ingredients for many of the company’s iconic brand food and beverage products. PepsiCo’s ambitious growth plans and commitment to its sustainability goals includes a focus on building resilient and inclusive supply chains in Uttar Pradesh. As a key actor in the region, PepsiCo aims to leverage its own procurement to address the complex challenges that female farmers and other agricultural laborers face while also driving environmental outcomes. Accompanying this ambition is PepsiCo’s strong belief in the need to partner with others to be able to scale impact and support system-wide change.

In June 2020, PepsiCo and USAID launched the Global Development Alliance (GDA): Investing in Women to Strengthen Supply Chains to make the business case for women’s economic empowerment by elevating women in its supply chains to lead to greater growth, profitability and sustainability. The GDA is a five-year value partnership that invests in advancing gender equality and women’s economic empowerment in PepsiCo’s agricultural supply chains while addressing the company’s business priorities. USAID and PepsiCo have partnered in four focus countries to do this work: India, Pakistan, Vietnam and Peru.

Empowering women as changemakers

Gender-Smart Farms are one key strategy being implemented by the GDA; they allow PepsiCo suppliers to pilot inclusive management policies and practices that strengthen the enabling environment for women’s inclusion and full participation on-farm. The goal is to tackle agronomic challenges and increase farm competitiveness by training and preparing women for new roles, enabling women to become the first adopters of new regenerative technologies and improving women’s working conditions.

When Virendra, farm owner and host to one of the Gender-Smart Farms, cited challenges with labor retention, unsustainable farming practices and a lack of capacity building, the GDA worked with him and local PepsiCo staff to find a solution. This solution involved partnering with NDrip, a micro-irrigation system provider, to build the capacity of female farmers and farm workers — including Pritika, the daughter of one of the Gender-Smart Farm owners — to maintain and operate drip irrigation systems and work as extension agents. NDrip is the first and only micro-irrigation solution powered by gravity. It provides precise irrigation, saves water and produces higher yields without adding energy or requiring water filtration.

While Pritika had a genuine interest in farming and an aptitude for agricultural work from a very young age, she lacked the tools and access to training necessary to succeed on the farm. The GDA worked with Pritika to build her capacity to install and closely observe, maintain and manage the NDrip irrigation system. She also received training on how to improve the production and yield of potatoes and build fellow laborers’ skills. The GDA’s capacity building brought Pritika to the forefront of farm management and solidified her as a champion of sustainable farming in Uttar Pradesh. Today, she helps to make decisions on-farm, drives the tractor, leads the tilling and sowing of seeds and manages the NDrip system.

The NDrip system and Pritika’s success in managing it led to farm-wide improvements. The plants in the NDrip-irrigated plot are more resilient, surviving heavy fog in the winter that spoiled plants on the neighboring farms without the NDrip system. There is now systematic fertigation and management of the farm, and Pritika has observed a reduction in input costs due to the NDrip system’s optimized usage of agricultural chemicals. The NDrip system has also shown a 41% reduction in water usage compared to flood irrigation. The plot where NDrip was installed gave 42% more yield compared to the furrow irrigation plot. The farm expects to have a more profitable farming season due to the lower costs and improvements in production they’re already witnessing.

While the farm had only two PepsiCo-contracted growers to help the first year and four the second year, during the most recent growing season, seven more potato farmers approached the farm to express interest in becoming PepsiCo-contracted growers. When Pritika began mobilizing farmers from the community to take up the GDA’s interventions and management practices, 39 new farmers showed up to a GDA-organized field day aimed at orienting growers to PepsiCo contract farming. Most of those farmers also expressed their interest in joining as contract farmers, indicating the future retention and scaling of suppliers in this locality for PepsiCo. Pritika’s success is also motivating other girls and women in the farmer households of the village to get involved in technical work on farms themselves, such as drip irrigation maintenance and recordkeeping.

PepsiCo and USAID are developing new gender-responsive on-farm approaches that generate data and insights that will make a compelling business case for scaling investments in women’s economic empowerment within agricultural supply chains in India and around the world. Pritika’s story is just the beginning.