Sunday, April 3, 2011


Why is that the very name Pepsi or Coke evokes adverse reaction amongst many people in India, especially the intellectuals? Is it because they are multinationals with excessive focus on profit, ignoring the welfare of the local communities where their manufacturing centers produce multitude of products targeted at the middle class? High fat, high calorie products from these food giants have already been indicted partly for the gigantic obesity epidemic in the US and other rich countries and can this be the reason?

Look at the decade old war of words and insinuations between the Kerala Government and the Coca Cola regarding the social, health and economic damage caused by one of the cola bottling plants in that state and how silly it can be for the government to claim damage for using under ground water without which the bottled beverage cannot be made! Why the hell Coke was given license knowing well such a thing could happen? Why not take action against those Babus who overlooked the social aspect of the project at the evaluation stage? In contrast here is a case of PepsiCo receiving accolades in Mexico for its close social liaison with the local population, especially the farmers.

PepsiCo, Inc. the global rival of Coke, seems to have consciously courted a course that would endear them to people in Mexico, especially the farming community and where they have considerable commercial interest. Their Sun Flower cultivation program encourages the local farmers to grow sustainable version of Sun Flower with a 100% buy back guarantee, reducing the risk to the growers to a considerable extent. In partnership with the lending institutions PepsiCo offers to provide technical support and training to 850 farmers who will be using sustainable agricultural practices to meet PepsiCo's contract, estimated at $52 million over the next seven years. The investment is indicative of the new trend and growing demand from the snack food industry for higher quality vegetable oils and probably may provide income and security to the farmers and their families. The world's number two seller of nuts and seeds will be processing a majority of the sunflowers into a high-oleic, heart healthy oil to be incorporated into product lines from many regional brands.

While one can ignore the "adorable" words like sustainable agriculture, nutrition, food security etc used by the MNC to highlight their involvement, the fact still remains that the this global giant is at least sensitive about the issues on which they have to live up to the expectations of the civil society. It is also true that they are producing same junk foods and beverages like in other countries for which they will be taken to task one day or the other. All said and done this new sensitivity as being shown in Mexico must be perceptible in other countries like India also. Looking at the development of MNC food companies in India during the last few years, there certainly exists an awareness about the local needs vis-a-vis taste and flavor as evidenced by range of new products in the market specially designed for local palate that never exist in any other part of the world. Probably this approach to serve the needs of the consumer rather than attempt to change their food habits can be expected to stand in good stead for these MNCs in the coming years.

Of course there is the famous ITC program being run in some states in the northern part of India under the e-Choupal project which covers millions of farmers engaged in growing wheat through technical and other supports that help them to maximize returns on their crop. Of course ITC has an abiding interest to securing adequate supplies of high performance wheat which go in the manufacture of their branded atta through out the country. There is nothing wrong for the commercial and farmer interests coinciding for mutual benefit and such role models need to be replicated several fold in areas like pulses and oil seed production in which India is still not self reliant. If GOI is pro-active to promote, encourage and incentivize such PPP projects, India may really become the super economic power for which right now there is only a yearning, no concrete action.


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