Coca-Cola trying to do good?

While this blog began as a look at how five big businesses are attempting to improve the livelihoods and food security of small-scale farmers in developing countries (see previous blog post), it quickly became more than a single blog’s worth of information, in particular, on just Coca-Cola alone. Hence this second instalment looking at the multiple initiatives Coca-Cola, with a number of partners, are running across a variety of themes. As with the last blog we’ll leave it up to you as to whether you think these initiatives add up to a sum total of “doing good”.

coceAt the US-Africa Leaders summit Coca-Cola announced a new investment into its African bottling partners of $5 billion over six years, bringing their total investment, between 2010 and 2020, to $17 billion. This money will be invested in Africa, where they have been working since 1928, in new manufacturing lines and equipment, creating more jobs, as well as several of Coca-Cola’s sustainability initiatives based around sustainable sourcing, safe water access and women’s empowerment. Some of these initiatives include:

Project Nurture – an $11.5 million partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and TechnoServe launched in 2010 supporting 50,000 small-scale mango and passion fruit farmers in in Kenya and Uganda to sustainably grow their crops and double their fruit incomes. As of June 2013, more than 50,000 farmers who were successfully organized into 1,100 producer business groups have been recruited, more than 70 community extension service providers and 48,500 farmers have been trained in agronomic practices, and two processors have been approved as suppliers in the Coca-Cola’s supply chain.

Source Africa – a future initiative in partnership with the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition and Grow Africa that aims to support secure more consistent and sustainable local ingredient sourcing mango and tea production in Kenya; citrus, mango and pineapple production in Nigeria; and mango in Malawi.

Replenish Africa – A Pan-African water access and sanitation programme to improve sustainable safe water access for 6 million Africans. Goals also include economically empowering up to 250,000 women and youth; promoting health and hygiene in thousands of communities, schools, and health centres; and returning up to 18.5 billion litres of water to nature and communities. Achievements to date include

Project Last Mile: A collaboration between Coca-Cola, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Global Fund and USAID to draw on Coca-Cola’s storage, distribution and supply chains to deliver medical supplies. In June 2014, a $21 million expansion of the programme to an additional eight African countries over the next five years was announced.

5by20: Launched in 2010, the initiative has helped over 550,000 female entrepreneurs in 18 African countries by offering women access to business skills training courses, financial services and connections with peers or mentors. The project has the aim of reaching 5 million women by 2020.

EKOCENTER: Focusing on communities that are without access to basic goods and services, the EKOCENTER initiative is a “modular community market (or kiosk) that is run by a local woman entrepreneur and also provides safe water, solar power and Internet access” among other services. The first prototype was launched in Johannesburg in 2013 and in 2014 the plan has been to set up 23 EKOCENTER pilot units in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Ghana and Vietnam.

Project Unnati – Located in Chittoor district of Southern India, the project has piloted the use of ultrahigh-density plantations (UHDP) in mango cultivation. The system “maximizes photosynthesis”, allowing plantations to develop to maturity in as little as 3 to 4 years as opposed to 7-9 in traditional farming, ultimately raising productivity. The mangos produced go to the Indian juice drink market. Now in its second phase, it aims to reach 25,000 farmers, covering 50,000 acres.

Alongside these projects Coca-Cola have also worked with Oxfam to develop their Commitment to Land Rights and Sugar, an action plan addressing land rights in their supply chains, including zero tolerance for land grabs. Implementing this commitment includes such actions as “disclosing their sugarcane sourcing markets and suppliers within the next three years” and conducting country baseline studies on land rights in their top cane sugar sourcing markets. In July of 2013, Coca-Cola also committed to sustainably source their key agricultural ingredients: cane sugar, beet sugar, high-fructose starch-based syrup (primarily corn), tea, coffee, palm oil, soy, pulp, paper fiber, oranges, lemons, grapes, apples and mangoes, by 2020, and released their Sustainable Agriculture Guiding Principles (SAGP).

Coca-Cola has come under much criticism for their work in Africa, in particular their work in conjunction with the New Alliance, seeing these efforts as a way of securing markets, land, resources and labour in Africa as a way of boosting corporate profits, a form of new colonialism. The concern is that this will increase the risk of African small scale farmers “being squeezed out of their livelihoods”. Development programmes like the New Alliance aim to mobilise aid from developed countries and private investments to “open up African countries to the might of big agribusiness – all in the name of tackling hunger and poverty”. Although Coca-Cola make a number of claims on their aims to bring benefits to small-scale African farmers and rural communities but perhaps public sector support should go directly to these communities rather than firms like Coca Cola?

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