Terry Slavin reports on how the giant conglomerate, which has set Science Based targets for its entire group, is using its mandatory 2% of profits to developing a watershed management programme in Madhya Pradesh
India is in the grips of an unprecedented water crisis, with 600 million people facing high to extreme water stress, three quarters of households lacking access to drinking water in their homes, and the country ranking 120th among 122 countries in water quality, according to an alarming report published this year.
According to the Asian Development Bank, about 84% of all water withdrawals are used for agriculture in India, but average efficiency of irrigation water use is only 38%, with productivity further hampered by low crop yields and the cultivation of low-value crops.
When Mahindra Group, the vast Indian conglomerate whose businesses include the world’s leading tractor manufacturer as well as drip-irrigation systems, looked at how it would spend the 2% in profits mandated under India’s CSR law, it did not have to think hard.
We thought there was no better way to use the money than on water availability in India
In an interview at the Global Climate Action Summit in California in September, Anirban Ghosh, Mahindra’s chief sustainability officer, explained that the company decided to devote its CSR budget to developing an integrated watershed management programme in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
“We thought there was no better way to use it [the money] than on water availability in India,” he said.
In the Damoh district of the state, which comprises 20,000 people in 32 villages, and covers an area of over 10,000 hectares, the company collaborated with the state government to implement a programme that combined the construction of water and soil conservation infrastructure like dams, trenches and bunds, with tree planting, the introduction of improved seed varieties, drip irrigation systems, tractors, and even Grameen fridges, which keep vegetables fresh for five days without any use of electricity.
The growing season was extended, the water table of the district rose two feet, and farmers who previously could only irrigate one or two acres, even if they owned 10, were able to irrigate all the land they owned, according to a video of the project available on YouTube. Improved seeds, the introduction of tractors on some farms, and the selection of some farmers to be trained at the regional farming science centre to become “agri doctors”, equipped with tablets and software, boosted productivity. Ghosh said average per capital income of households rose 235% over five years.
Asked what value Mahindra has got out of the watershed management partnership, Ghosh said it had increased the potential market for the company’s tractor business and its Agri Solutions subsidiary, providing valuable lessons in how it can reach its target to positively impact the lives of 75 million farmers by 2025.
“It told us what works, and what doesn’t work, which triggers are more impactful in the steps we are taking in our agriculture business,” Ghosh said.
This article is part of Ethical Corporation's December issue on how companies are responding to escalating water risk in a warming climate.