Pernod Ricard India: Transforming Communities and Accelerating Local Development

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Sashidhar Vempala

India is staring at a chronic national water crisis that is further influenced by its varying geographical conditions and inequitable socio-economic capabilities. According to World Resource Institute, more than 100 million people live in areas of poor water quality, and 54 per cent of India faces high to extremely high water stress. 

Envisioning water at the crux of all development, we, at Pernod Ricard India (PRI), have emerged as a leading corporate citizen, championing 360° water stewardship with communities and programmes driving strong progress on six targets under SDG 6 for Clean Water and Sanitation. With our Water Development Program, we aim to foster resilience by safeguarding the availability, quality, quantity of safely managed water for our communities.

Groundwater irrigation covers more than half of the total irrigated area (around 42 million ha)*. The unsustainable groundwater use necessitates creating watershed level surface storage and recharge structures, supply and demand management and water management practices for improved water use efficiency in the agriculture sector.

Envisioning water at the crux of all development, we, at Pernod Ricard India (PRI), have emerged as a leading corporate citizen, championing 360° water stewardship with communities and programmes driving strong progress on six targets under SDG 6 for Clean Water and Sanitation. At Pernod Ricard India, we are committed to contributing to India’s development journey by transforming our communities and accelerating local development. With our Water Development Program, we aim to foster resilience by safeguarding the availability, quality, quantity of safely managed water for our communities.

We have deployed a multidimensional approach to strengthen natural water availability, facilitate access to clean drinking water and promote community-driven sanitation and hygiene management.

Community Managed Water, 365 Days of the Year

As the country’s groundwater extraction rate peaks beyond 63 per cent*, its rural landscapes face an unprecedented challenge; there is not enough water to fulfil the needs of the primarily agrarian population.

As a net Water Positive company since 2019, we are cognizant that our impact on water extends beyond our fence. We have strategically mapped the water stress at the watershed level of our operations across India with the help of the World Research Institute (WRI) – Global Water Risk Atlas and India Water Tool. This has enabled the development of contextual programmes centred on fostering water resilience with communities, aiming to create surface storage and natural harvesting structures and embedding deep aquifer recharge channels for groundwater replenishment.

We have created a total water potential of 940 million litres since 2019-20 through construction, desiltation and renovation of more than 797 water structures, including farm ponds, traditional tanks, government irrigation canals, nala bunds, check dams, geomembrane tanks, recharge wells, wastewater recharge wells and rainwater harvesting structures.

Through our flagship programme called WAL (Water, Agriculture, Livelihoods), we continuously engage with more than 1,08,000 community members near our operations in seven States. Working with farmers, especially small and marginal farmers, our programme focuses on replenishing surface and groundwater for ensuring year-round availability of water through groundwater replenishment and surface storage creation. The programme also promotes water-efficient agriculture, sustainable production, natural resource management to augment their disposable incomes.

Across 11 ongoing projects, through Pernod Ricard India Foundation, we have created a total water potential of 940 million litres since 2019-20 through construction, desiltation and renovation of more than 797 water structures, including farm ponds, traditional tanks, government irrigation canals, nala bunds, check dams, geomembrane tanks, recharge wells, wastewater recharge wells and rainwater harvesting structures. With participatory engagement, the programme has also strived to build community ownership of water structures for long-term sustainability by establishing institutions such as Gram Sangathans, farmer groups, and water management committees.

Apart from focusing on increasing storage and recharge, our WAL programmes extensively focus on maintaining sustainable and cost-effective methods to reduce water consumption in agri-allied activities while increasing yield dividends for all cohorts of farming groups. Deployment of micro-irrigation techniques such as drip and sprinkler systems along with laser levelling of uneven fields have demonstrated 25-40 per cent water savings in Behror. In Nashik, the programme has communities conduct expansive water resource mapping and budgeting exercises for seasonal planning. The establishment of Jal Panchayats has also been piloted at Derabassi, Punjab, to create a governance system for equitable water along with the ongoing demonstrations of sprinkler systems with the State agriculture department.

Safe Drinking Water for All

The country has only 4 per cent*of the world’s potable water, which is a gross under-supply considering its burgeoning population. Many groundwater resources across the country are also affected by high salinity, arsenic, fluoride and other impurities that make even the available drinking water unfit for use, and personal water purification systems are too costly to afford for most.

As a company, we envision Water, Sanitation and Hygiene as a human right for communities. With the vision to bridge the demand and access gap in the availability of potable water to underserved communities for whom drinking is inevitably tied to good health and wellbeing, our Foundation’s Clean Drinking Water programme has installed 50 Water ATMs at 18 locations across six States, serving more than 1,50,000 beneficiaries. The unique “Hub and Spoke” model adopted in the programme addresses the gaps in reach and delivery of a high maintenance single RO model which often fails to curb access and related labour and transport costs for communities.

In Sahibganj, a NITI Aayog aspirational district of Jharkhand with a significant tribal population, with most rural households below the poverty line, the Hub and Spoke model of Water ATMs serves 10  locations with a 2,000 LPH RO and 10-ring structures. Serving a population of 75,000, the programme has gained widespread appreciation from the district authorities for its contribution to bettering the WASH indicators of the district.

The Hub and Spoke model provides clean drinking water to communities in their neighbourhood through specialised ring structures, which serve as storage and dispensing stations to supply water from a centralised RO plant through a rigorous quality assured process. The ATMs also generate local employment opportunities by employing youth and women SHGs from the communities as machine operators through an RFID-based dispensing model providing water at just 30 paise per litre. The units which produce water, compliant with the Indian Standards 10500, are equipped with technology for real-time monitoring of the quality of water and usage. Through targeted community engagement centred around increasing the awareness of the need for safe drinking water and community buy-in, the programme also aims to bring about a long-term behaviour change in the consumption pattern to improve public hygiene and sanitation.

In Sahibganj, a NITI Aayog aspirational district of Jharkhand with a significant tribal population, with most rural households below the poverty line, the Hub and Spoke model of Water ATMs serves 10  locations with a 2,000 LPH RO and 10-ring structures. Serving a population of 75,000, the programme has gained widespread appreciation from the district authorities for its contribution to bettering the WASH indicators of the district.

Sustainable access to water, sanitation supplemented with robust community-based governance and inclusion efforts, can effectuate transformative positive displacement for marginalised people with far-reaching impact on their health, nutrition and savings in time and money. 

Grooming the Cleanest Villages

As villages in the country are rapidly urbanised with changing consumption patterns, existing infrastructure and processes of waste management are falling short in accommodating the increased and diversified categories of waste emanating from rural households. Built on the concept of promoting pride, ownership and accountability towards public hygiene in three villages around our plant in Behror, Project Sampurn Swachhta Abhiyan aims to bring about a holistic behaviour change in the community members and instil competitiveness towards becoming the cleanest villages in the region. The project is establishing a dry waste collection centre and facilitating door-to-door collection of waste, thereby engaging 357 households and benefitting 4,400 community members. The project also generates local job opportunities for the operators of the collection vehicle while handing the ownership to the village administration.

With less than a decade to go, the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda needs urgent action from the global community. Among the 17 SDGs, the progress on people goals i.e. SDG 1 to 6, is vital for achieving the rest, more so concerning the developing world.

We realise that sustainable access to water, sanitation supplemented with robust community-based governance and inclusion efforts, can effectuate transformative positive displacement for marginalised people with far-reaching impact on their health, nutrition and savings in time and money.

For us, it does not stop at merely creating these resources at people’s disposal. We strive to empower those who are the farthest from the first, including small farmers, low-income groups, and rural women, to live a life of dignity and well being.

Sashidhar Vempala heads CSR, Sustainability and Communications at Pernod Ricard India.

 *Insights from Sattva Consulting (India Data Insights).