Improving water efficiency and sugarcane farmers’ livelihoods in India

Solidaridad’s water efficient sugarcane production programme has been working with farmers in India’s Karnataka and Telangana regions since 2016. The programme, supported by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, aims to increase the efficiency of water use in sugarcane farming to address over-exploitation of groundwater resources. Below we take a look at the activities to date, and the highlights of the programme’s midline assessment carried out by LEI Wageningen University.

Sugarcane farmers attend a classroom training session

The water efficient sugarcane production programme aims to support 35,000 farmers across 25,000 hectares of land to use sustainable water efficient agricultural practices. 

The programme also provides:

  • regular agriculture and financial literacy training
  • exposure visits to different sugarcane growing states
  • support in the uptake of latest technologies
  • development of local entrepreneurs
  • building robust infrastructures.

Implemented by Solidaridad, the programme is a public-private partnership which brings together sugarcane companies and knowledge partners:

  • NSL Sugars Limited
  • Natems Sugar Private Limited
  • Vasantdada Sugar Institute
  • Pune and Osmania universities

Technical partner eLEAF also supports the programme’s monitoring systems with satellite mapping of sugarcane plots for information on water, crop and crop-water productivity. 

Key activities to date

Five hundred farmers and extension staff have been trained at the Vasantdada Sugar Institute. Participants receive training on good practices with a focus on efficient use of water. The training takes the form of videos, classroom and lab sessions, introductions to the latest machinery and seed varieties and field visits.

In addition, Osmania University’s geology team conducted a hydro-geological study of the sugarcane command areas of three sugar mills. The study highlighted the geo-physical features, groundwater availability, and soil health in fields.

Thirdly, satellite imagery has been used to provide information on water productivity, water management and crop productivity in sugarcane fields. The eLEAF team, with the support of mill staff, plotted the geometric location of 300 plots at three mills and now deliver periodic information to support the monitoring of progress in crop growth and water consumption. This helps the mills to identify issues and supports intervention strategies.

Sugarcane farmers receive training at Vasantdada Sugar InstituteSugarcane farmers receive training at Vasantdada Sugar Institute

Programme highlights 

  • increase in use of drip irrigation
  • higher application of biological fertilizers and pesticides
  • decline in the use of chemical fertilizers
  • improved use of correct row-to-row spacing
  • increased use of seed nurseries.

Productivity and income of farmers taking part in the programme:

  • Sugarcane productivity increased by one tonne
  • Production cost decreased by 9572 Indian Rupees
  • Income from sugarcane increased from 84,969 to 176,105 Indian Rupees for 55% of the farmers. (Note: the average price of sugarcane in the region increased by 424 Indian Rupees/tonne in 2016.)

Osmania University's geology team conduct a hydro-geological study in a sugarcane fieldOsmania University’s geology team conduct a hydro-geological study in a sugarcane field

Next steps 

The project will continue until June 2021, with the overall impact assessment being conducted in late 2020.

In the coming year, the impact of the programme’s activities on farmers’ livelihoods in relation to changes in their agriculture practices will be evaluated and taken forward. A roundtable will take place with programme partners, stakeholders from the state agriculture department, sugar companies, agriculture universities, and representatives from the Netherlands Embassy. At the roundtable, we will present the programme’s results and discuss how learnings can be integrated into the Indian government’s schemes to support sugarcane farmers.

Learn more about Solidaridad’s sugarcane programmes