In an interview with Rusen Kumar from India CSR, Debadatta Baxi, Regional Director, HR – India, Korea, South East Asia & Taiwan at McCain Foods shared facts on McCain’s Smart and Sustainable farming pillar – initiatives undertaken, impact created so far and the way forward. Since 1998, McCain has been engaged in agriculture R&D and in development of frozen food market in India and subcontinent countries. With sustainability at the heart, the company has made concerted efforts towards improving agricultural resource efficiency and adapting to climate change in India. McCain is committed to its purpose of ‘planet friendly food’ while building a resilient future and fulfilling its environment commitments. Excerpts of an interview:
What are the different initiatives you are undertaking in terms of ensuring smart and sustainable farming at McCain?
For nearly 22 years, McCain India has worked to integrate sustainable business practices across its operations, from farm to table – with an aim to deliver planet friendly food to our consumers. To support the objectives of sustainable, climate-friendly and productive agriculture, McCain has made concerted efforts towards improving agricultural resource efficiency and adapting to climate change.
We remain committed to improving the sustainability of our products, with a key focus on creating a more sustainable approach to potato farming. Our innovative farming techniques are aimed at improving agricultural resource efficiency by collaborating with farmers for water usage efficiency and educating farmers on various farm-operating practices like Regenerative Agriculture.
In India, our ‘Smart Farming Program’ spans from Gujarat to Lahaul-Spiti, Punjab and Rajasthan and we work with over 1000 farmers. Currently, more than 1/3rd of our contracted volume of potato is grown under the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) scheme.The farmers associated with McCain Foods grow these crop under drip and sprinkler irrigation with the overall vision of growing and distributing better quality potato for the customers, without disturbing the biodiversity of the region. During pandemic, we also accelerated Digital Management of agriculture through which we remotely managed to ensure supply continuity and income for our farmers.
We have also witnessed remarkable reduction in the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers by the farmers. 14% of our growers/farmers are below the age of 35 and all of our growers have been trained by the McCain team for over 1,250 training hours in 2020. With sustained efforts, 56% of the contracted volume of potatoes is certified under Global Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). Additionally, we have accelerated our efforts towards Regenerative Agriculture which is an ecosystem-based approach to farming that aims to increase farmer resilience by enhancing soil health, and protecting biodiversity to improve yields, while reducing dependencies on synthetic inputs.
We take pride in stating that 100% of our existing growers use sustainable water practices to ensure water efficiency usage, thereby producing better quality potatoes without polluting the air, water and soil of the region.
Please tell us more about Resource Efficient Operations in terms of farming.
We are cognizant of the importance of farms, farmers, communities, and the world at large. We believe in long term partnerships and hence we have been working with some farming families for three generations. Through the generations, the partnership between McCain Foods and the farmers has increased to around 3,500 farmers across the world, who harvest nearly 6.8 million tons of potatoes every year.
In 2006, we also began equipping our contract farms in Punjab with drip/sprinkler systems. By 2009, 100% acreage under contract farming in Gujarat was already under sprinkler irrigation. To replicate this practice in Punjab, we organized a team of 10 contract seed growers from Gujarat to visit the state and demonstrate the new farming techniques. To further promote the sprinkler irrigation system, McCain also declared incentives for the growers, which motivated them to invest in the technology. Through innovative practices, we have optimized operations in Agriculture through significant reduction in pesticide and fertilizer usage and efficient use of water through drip irrigation. We achieved a 14% reduction in water use intensity across our growing regions with application of drip-water technology. We are striving towards water efficiency and optimization through continuous monitoring and upgrading our existing systems, to achieve our global target of 15% improvement in water use efficiency by 2030.
Additionally, we encourage the use of renewable energy where we work with cold storage partners to switch from conventional to renewable sources of energy. We have also witnessed 2% decrease in CO2 emissions per tonne by effectively reducing the transport induced emissions from field to our plants.
Our holistic farming practice, adopted in Regenerative Agriculture, aims to improve soil health and reverse climate change by expanding biodiversity, improving the water cycle, increasing organic matter in soil structure, and transferring carbon from the atmosphere to the soil. This increases the amount of arable topsoil, which results in a healthier, better food system.
Explain the concept of ‘Farms of the Future’ and initiatives that you are undertaking as a part of it?
Understanding McCain’s global commitment towards Regenerative agriculture, which promotes biodiversity, more plant cover on fields throughout the year, minimizing soil disturbances and maximizing crop diversity as a way to increase water efficiency, protect against erosion, pump more nutrients into the earth, create greater resilience to droughts and floods, capture more carbon and increase the yield and quality per acre.
Globally, we commit to implementing regenerative agricultural practices across 100% of McCain potato acres by 2030 and will be operating three Farms of the Future by 2025 globally which will be dedicated to developing regenerative agricultural practices.
The company will implement sustainable agricultural practices on its three Farms of the Future, the first of which is now operational in Florenceville, NB (Canada). The purpose is to demonstrate that these agricultural practices, supported by technology and innovation, can be implemented at scale and be economically viable for farmers.
What are the major milestones you have achieved so far in India?
As the challenges posed by climate change become more acute, the global food system needs to transform significantly to feed a growing population while reducing its impact on nature. It needs to evolve to adjust to the changing expectations of consumers and adapt to the disruptions in the food supply chain that are caused by more erratic and extreme weather events.
Over the years, McCain Foods has been successfully driving new models of sustainable farming across the globe while reducing environmental footprints. In India, the key goal is to reduce the impact on the land, by helping growers future-proof their operations by promoting smart and sustainable farming. In terms of impact, the company has reduced 14% of water-use intensity (m3/tonne) across its growing regions from 2017 to 2020, with application of drip-irrigation technology. It has also reduced 19% of pesticide use (kg active ingredient per tonne of potato) from 2017 baseline. Additionally, the company has invested over 1250 hours to train farmers in 2020, 94% higher than in 2019. McCain’s 14% of growers are below the age of 35; up from 11% in F19, which aids its Succession Planning for encouraging next generation to take up farming. Lastly, company’s 56% of contracted volume of potatoes is certified under Global GAP, up from 36% in 2019.
With the aim of producing more food with less natural resources, in line with the ambitions of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals, McCain Foods has been making efficient use of energy, water, and potatoes. Therefore, the company plans to reduce their CO2 emissions and other resource efficient operations, with the overarching aim of building a sustainable future for its consumers. In India, the company purchased electricity from wind turbines in 2020 and secured the environmental certificates to be able to claim 20% renewable electricity in 2021. It has improved 3% of CO2 emissions intensity (Scope 1 & 2) 2017-20. Lastly, the company has recovered 100% of B2C plastic materials from April 2020. McCain’s corrugated packaging has 99.7% recycled content, up from 98.2% in 2019 – 99.7% FSC certified paper sourced materials.
To improve the nutritional profile of its products while continuing to offer new, healthier choices, McCain Foods has reduced 13% of sodium in their Veggie Nuggets and 10% in Smiles. To prepare its products, the company also plans to move from palm oil to alternative oils by 2025.
The communities are the foundation of McCain’s business and it remains committed to building long-term, trusted connections with the growers, societies, and employees. Towards this, McCain India launched Project Shakti and Project Utthan to bring socio economic transformation and empowerment through livelihood initiatives and skill development of the women and farmers in rural India. McCain scaled up its efforts on Project Shakti, impacting 411 women and girls to date, including a further 116 in 2020. Through its Project Utthan, the company has improved the livelihoods of 203 small and marginal farmers in four villages in the region of Sabarkatha in Gujarat in its first year. McCain also donated 152,000 meals 26 tonnes of finished goods to the communities in need.
What are your plans for next five years?
Admired for our quality, people and customer dedication, McCain’s vision has for long stood to be the world leader in potato and appetizers. Our aim is to produce and market the best and the most innovative prepared potatoes and appetizer products to our consumers and customers in retail foodservice and quick service restaurants.
Our commitment to sustainability is enshrined in our purpose which is ‘Celebrating real connections through delicious, planet-friendly food’. We believe that building a resilient future and preservation of the planet is our collective responsibility and we are on track to achieve our Sustainability Goals 2030.
Our global sustainability plans aim at fulfilling environmental commitments to produce zero waste to landfill, use 100% renewable energy, to reduce CO2 emissions by 50% and to increase water efficiency by 15% by 2030. We are signatories of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and are determined to building a circular economy for plastic. In this regard, we aim to ensure 100% of our materials are recyclable which requires there is successful post-consumer collection, sorting, and recycling and it is proven to work in practice and at scale.
Alongside our commitment to ‘planet friendly food’, we have plans to reduce sodium content in our products by 15% by 2025, providing clear and transparent nutritional information, and removing artificial ingredients. By 2025, we aim to operate three Farms of The Future globally which would be dedicated to further developing Regenerative Agricultural Practices.