Catalysing behavior change amongst sugarcane farmers for water demand management

A multi-pronged approach to behavior change leads to large-scale conservation of
water resources in sugarcane cultivation in three Indian states


An estimated 50 million farmers, mostly small and marginal, are engaged in sugarcane cultivation in India over four million hectares of land. An additional 20 million individuals are dependent on the employment generated by the sugar mills and related industries. India is the second largest producer of sugarcane in the world after Brazil and the year 2013-14 recorded production level of 3,40,000 metric tonnes of sugarcane in the entire country.
But unfortunately, over the years, the problem of over exploitation of water resources has remarkably increased. This is further aggravated due to the changing climatic conditions which have altered rainfall patterns in various parts of the country. Also flood
irrigation being the predominant method of irrigation leads to water overuse and sub-optimal productivity.
Against this backdrop, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) implemented an ambitious sustainable sugarcane advisory
programme, referred to as the India Sugar Advisory Farmer Support Programme in the three states of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.
The project aimed to increase agricultural productivity through good water management practices at farm level and conduct outreach with beneficiary farmers.


• IFC: Conceptualisation, design and regular technical inputs to the program;
• Solidaridad Asia: Co-funded the programme and monitored and evaluated it at the field level;
• Co-funded by Governments of Japan, Netherlands, Australia and Hindustan Unilever Foundation (HUF for 18 months)
• DSCL Sugars and Olam Agro India Limited: Sugar companies providing the on-ground implementation; and,
• Farmers for implementing prescribed water efficiency measures.


The project focused on good water management practices.
An indicative list of good water management practices
(GWMPs) identified by the programme for promoting water use
efficiency in sugarcane are mentioned below:
Land preparation
l Deep- ploughing/ sub-soiling
l Land- levelling
l Addition of organic manure/ green manuring/ press mud compost
l Trash mulching
l Trash mulch combined with skip furrow irrigation
Planting methods
l Trench planting
l Ring/ pit method of planting
Irrigation methods
l Furrow- irrigation
l Skip- furrow irrigation
l Drip irrigation
l Sprinkler irrigation
l Gated pipes
l Irrigation at critical crop growth stages.

Accordingly, the project included the following four interrelated sets of interventions.
1. Training and capacity-building on sustainable sugarcane agronomy: An essential training-based component involved joint training from IFC and Solidaridad for field extension workers, sugarcane staff, management from Olam and DCM Shriram, farmers in the program area, and lead farmers.
Training modules included:
l Seed and varietal development for productivity
enhancement and recovery;
l Integrated pest management (IPM) including biocontrol
of pests and diseases; and,
l Soil health management focusing on increasing
organic carbon content in soils
2. Adoption and training for water-use efficiency: This
included the following:
l Strategizing on the promotion of cost-effective, locally-appropriate water-use efficiency
enhancement techniques, through discussions and consultations with government research institutions including the Indian Institute of Sugarcane Research (IISR), Lucknow and Vasant Dada Sugar Institute (VSI), Pune and HUF.
l Promotion of locally appropriate low-cost water saving
techniques, such as trash mulching, application of organic manure, furrow irrigation, drip irrigation, and land-leveling techniques.
3. Farm Process Outsourcing (FPO) – Mechanization Support through Custom-Hire Services from Agricultural Technology Service Providers (ATSPs):
Much-needed support towards mechanization was extended through an IFC collaboration with the International Centre for Entrepreneurship and Career Development (ICECD), Ahmedabad. A total of 100 successful ATS Ps were supposed to be established as a part of the larger India Sugar Advisory Farmer Support Programme.
4. Bonsucro standards: IFC and Solidaridad have jointly propagated the adoption of sustainable sugarcane production standards, namely, Bonsucro, a global metric sustainability standard for sugarcane. The Bonsucro standards emphasised sustainability and offered a win-win situation for both farmers and sugar mills. The propagation of these standards was conducted through a national-level workshop in May 2013, followed by visits and meetings with Bonsucro officials to sensitize
the management of DCM Shriram and Olam about the standards. Gap audits were conducted by December 2014, and submitted the reports to DCM Shriram and


1. Programme interventions required discarding the age-old practices of floor irrigation and the adoption of new practices, which meant challenging the prevailing
mindset of the farmers. Adoption of good water management practices was slow and guided by sociocultural factors, not just economic considerations.
2. Engagement of expert trainers. Continuous training of the farmers was crucial for a high adoption rate but was resource intensive.
3. Manual data recording for tracking, monitoring, and evaluation led to delay or loss of data, which in turn led to a non-capture of the on-ground efforts and learnings.
Screenshot (64)

Harsh Vivek, Suparna Jain, Richard Colback – International Finance Corporation
Prashant Pastore, Solidaridad, India

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