Satish Kumar is a farmer from a small village in Southern India. Like every parent, he dreams big for his sons.
"I believe education can change their lives," Kumar said. His 10-year-old son recently began studying at an elite private school far away from their village.
Kumar is happy that he could move his son to a school that will expose him to a better life. This transition was made possible by a good crop of mangoes from his farm, where he has recently adopted the proven Ultra High Density Plantation (UHDP) technique, which multiplies the yield of mangoes.
India is the world's largest producer of mangoes, but its farms are among the least efficient. In 2011, The Coca-Cola Company partnered with Jain Irrigation to address this issue by training farmers in the UHDP technique through Project Unnati (translates to "Improvement").
"In traditional farming, the trees grow very tall, and that makes the plucking of mangoes cumbersome," Kumar said. "Since the height of trees is restricted to about six feet in the UHDP method, the fruits are more accessible. At a lower height, even when the mangoes fall to the ground, the chances of wastage are reduced considerably."
By pruning the canopy for maximum volume and planting grafts close to each other, the UHDP technique can "double mango yields… while decreasing the quantity of water used per kilo of mango production," according to the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform. UHDP also allows farmers to reap harvest in just three to four years, compared to the traditional seven to nine years.
The technique's use of drip irrigation has a dual impact, improving the yield per acre while significantly decreasing the use of water. In addition to special techniques of pruning, fertigation, and growth promotion, Project Unnati also supports effective nutrition management.
At the heart of the Project Unnati is creating a sustainable ecosystem that will help farmers flourish. Over the next 10 years, 25,000 farmers across India will be encouraged to participate in the project.
Three years ago, when the Kumars were first approached to try out the UHPD method, they were certain that they would never opt for it.
"In traditional farming, we plant 60 trees per acre. Jain Irrigation representatives told us that the new technique would allow us to grow 674 trees per acre," Kumar explained. "We have been practicing farming all along so what they suggested seemed unreal and we found it difficult to believe."
Kumar's mother Sarojamma visited a UHDP plantation site and was encouraged by what she saw. She convinced her family to experiment with UHDP on four of their total 12 acres of farm land.
The Kumar family typically yielded 2 tons of mangoes per acre with conventional farming methods. Their first yield through UHDP farming doubled that number. The family has decided to extend the UHDP method to two additional acres of their land each year and now advocate the technique to their friends and neighbors.
Project Unnati is spread by trainers who take specialized buses with built-in classrooms right to farmers' doorsteps. The trainers spend a considerable amount of time mentoring locals and overseeing the application of the technique on a regular basis.
Over the next 10 years, the project will be scaled in phases with an aim to create an ecosystem that delivers high growth and income for farmers and strengthens the supply chain through the "Grove to Glass" cycle.
Project Unnati aims to expand the reach of UHDP throughout India while creating an end-to-end fruit supply chain to optimize delivery. During phase one of the project, the focus was on working towards highlighting the need for UHDP technology and in assisting in early adoption of the practice for families like the Kumars. In the second phase, the focus will be on building deeper engagements with farmers. The project will be scaled over the next 10 years and is expected to deliver close to 240KMT of fruit by 2023 or 2024.