In 2020 October Fairtrade NAPP entered into an agreement with Max Havelaar Switzerland for supporting the farming communities in Asia to mitigate the impact of COVID 19 on their social and economic sustainability. All the relief activities are funded by the  State Secretariat for Economic Affairs of Switzerland (SECO).and supported by Max Havelaar Switzerland. Read more to know about the Fund allocation. 

In India, the Fairtrade Sustainable Sugarcane Intensification (FSSI) Project was one of the important projects selected under the SECO COVID 19 Fairtrade Emergency Initiative to be implemented by the Fairtrade Sugar Consortium group comprising of 04 sugar SPOs in South India. The main aim of the Project is to empower smallholder sugar farmers by supporting them to produce organic sugarcane seed materials in the nursery with 25% ownership from each SPO and to create a stronger, resilient supply chain for Fairtrade sugar. The FSSI Project works on the concept of the ‘More with Less’ approach where simple agriculture innovations are applied for sugarcane farming using less inputs – water, seed, and fertilizer.

Sugar SPOS that form a part of the Fairtrade Sugar Consortium Groups

  1. Pimary Agriculture Credit Co-Operative Sangha Niyamit, Chikkamunvalli, FLO ID- 27789
  2. Devarshigihalli Primary Agriculture Co-Operative Sangha Niyamit, Devarshigihalli-   FLOID-23894
  3. Aravatagi Primary Agriculture Credit Cooperative-Sangha Niyamit, Doori, FLO ID-27788
  4. Primary Agriculture Credit Co-Operative-Sangha Niyamit, Itagi, FLO ID 27791.

India is home to about 120 million smallholder farmers and almost half of the population in the country depends on agriculture for their livelihood. Every year, the farmers face risks such as low rainfall, price volatility, and rising debts, but risks from the COVID-19 pandemic have put new challenges in front of the sector that is already under threat. One of the industries that are largely hit is the sugar agro-processing industry which produces around 300 million tons of cane per annum. The sugarcane cultivation and ancillary activities support approx. 4 million sugarcane farmers and many agricultural labourers which constitute 7.5% of the rural labour force. In addition, the industry provides employment to 500,000 skilled and semiskilled workers in rural areas. Therefore, the industry is a focal point for socio-economic development in rural areas, mobilizing rural resources, generating employment and higher incomes, and supporting the development of transport and communication facilities.

90% of the Sugarcane farmers are smallholder farmers, who remain highly vulnerable to COVID-19 crisis due to limited access to resources, credit, and basic healthcare facilities coupled with other challenges arising from the lockdown such as loss of income from secondary crops such as rabi along with shortage of labourers and equipment. Due to less or no secondary income, the farmers struggle to purchase the seed materials and inputs. Additionally, the increase in the price of inputs post lockdown has also made these resources inaccessible to smallholder and marginal farmers in the SPO regions.

Neglect in raising a good seed crop is one of the major defects in sugarcane cultivation all over the world as sugarcane seeds are derived directly from the commercial crop which is also responsible for the rapid multiplication of crop diseases. The characteristics of good seed qualities are seldom taken into consideration. These adversely affect the cane yield and quality. Moreover, seed quality is not just a matter of being free from pests and diseases, it also needs to have high water content and good nutritional status.

The Fairtrade Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative (FSSI) is an alternative to conventional sugarcane cultivation, it is a method of better management practices that involve the use of less seeds, less water, and optimum utilization of fertilizers and land to achieve more yield and profit for farmers and millers alike. A similar initiative has already helped over 5,000 farmers across India to improve their cane productivity by 40 percent, profits by 30 percent while reducing their ecological footprint.


1. Shade net nursery was constructed as per the standards of the National Horticultural Department.

2. Sugar Consortium Virtual Meeting was organised to discuss on the procurement of seed varieties that are suitable for the local conditions.

3. Selection of healthy canes, chipping, and treatment of buds

To raise the nursery, single-budded chips were removed from healthy canes (foundation seeds) treated with neem oil and Trichoderma spp. (instead of using whole lengths of cane) which are then placed individually in biodegradable germination trays along with nutrients enriched coco-pith. The Foundation Seeds are procurred from S. Nijalingappa Sugar Institute research farm at Belgaum

4. The tray is watered every evening for the next 15 days based on the moisture level of the pith.

This method for seedling growing is found to be the best among all the methods in terms of seed saving and proper cane growth.

Once the Shoot starts growing and becomes strong and the leaves start sprouting the application of water is increased gradually depending on the moisture level in the trays.

5. Grading and Germination

During the 3-4 leaf stage (about 20–25-day-old seedlings), grading of the plants is done. The plants of similar age (and height) are removed and placed in one tray while the damaged/ dead plants are removed.

The next step involves continuous monitoring of the germination process for the next 7 to 10 days, after which the sugar can seedlings are ready for distribution.


  • Reduction in the costs of cultivation by 20-30 percent
  • Reduction in seed material up to 95 percent
  • Water efficiency increases with savings up to 40-70 percent (depending on the irrigation methods applied)
  • Reduction in the use of labour by 20-30 percent
  • Yield improvement of 20-50 percent (depending on how effectively the FSSI practices are implemented)
  • Weed reduction by 40-60 percent (in the first three months) by raising intercrops
  • Additional income from intercrop

Indirect Benefits:

  • Subsidiary prices to all the members
  • A minimum increase in yield by 25 % yield will fetch extra income for farmers.
  • Rural employment
  • Community in the SPOs region will get benefited with surplus seed supply (non-members)
  • Reduced water and fertilisers may lead to a decrease in carbon footprint
  • Farmer family indirectly get benefited through the FSSI

Distribution Function and Capacity Building Training

Once the seedlings were ready a function was organized for its distribution to the beneficiaries on 12th March 2021. The Program was attended by 100 farmer members, Board of Directors of the Sugar SPOs, NAPP board member- Muniraju K. S, Fairtrade NAPP Team, Representatives of Sugar Exporter-Pure Diet.

In one particular variety, the seed efficiency rate per tray was achieved at 89 percent.

During the Program a capacity building training on Good Agricultural Practices in Organic Sugarcane cultivation was imparted by Dr. Sunil Kumar Nooli; Scientist from Agriculture Research station, Sankeshwar, Belgaum District, Karnataka

The Fairtrade sugar SPOs was represented by Muniraju K. S; Fairtrade NAPP – Board member who provided a brief on the background of the project supported by Max Havelaar- Switzerland and funded by SECO. He also explained how the farmers will be benefited through the new method of planting that will provide them better yield, better quality, reduced water consumption, and lower cost of production.

”On behalf of all our SPO members my heartfelt thanks to Max Havelaar and SECO for supporting us during these challenging times which is as sweet as our Cane Sugar. We look forward to your kind and continued support for the betterment of small farmers’ life. On behalf of Fairtrade NAPP, I personally thank our project implementing partner ARVI Enviro Engineers LLP” Muniraju K. S; Fairtrade NAPP – Board member

Distribution Acitvity

In Phase -1: 2500 Sugarcane Seedlings (Plants) were distributed to each of 30 farmers

In Phase-2, the Sugarcane setts (Chip buds) selected from the cultivation of Phase-1 sugarcane will be used for raising seedlings. It will target covering more than 100 farmers with 250,000 plants being distributed to them.

The Project has directly benefitted 936 families and over 1000 family members as indirect beneficiaries that include youth, adult, children, and old age family members. 

Ishwar Basappa Seeli, a 74-Year-old farmer member from Itagi, a village in the Belgaum district of Karnataka mentions-The Program was very useful and the entire village and its surrounding communities will benefit from the new sugarcane planting technique.  The surrounding villagers are looking at this structure and the new technique is spreading fast. It saves 6 Irrigations, reduces our cost of production, and provides better yield and higher income. During the COVID crisis, the new technique has helped us to get better income.’

‘’We are grateful to Dr. Sunil Kumar Nooli from Sugarcane Research Institute, Sankeshwar for providing such a wonderful training on New cultivation practices in Sugarcane. The new varieties and techniques have not only have improved our knowledge but also assures us of better yield and income which is very much necessary during the pandemic. ’’ Earappa Basavanappa Aralikatti is a 70-year-old sugar farmer from Itagi a village in the district of Belgaum, of Karnataka State in India.

‘’ It is a great achievement for all the 4 Sugar SPOs to have formed the Sugar consortium and built a good sugarcane shade net nursery. The training by Dr. Nooli was also very useful. We have learned how to produce better sugarcane seedlings for the future. We wish that the technique reaches to more farmers to bring a revolution in the sugar Industry through better performance and better income during the Covid pandemic.”- Manjunath Gurunath Kulkarni is a 32 years farmer hailing from a Village called Aravatagi in the Dharwad district of Karnataka, India.

When all the principles and practices of FSSI are followed, it works in synergy to improve the cane quality and productivity and to achieve higher yields and extra income from intercropping. The planting of cane sugar as per the FSSI methodology, in addition to increasing the tillering ability of the variety, also increases the individual weight of the canes with enhanced height and girth. Early planting of the seedling enables the plant to develop a stronger root system (shoot root) and synchronous and healthy tillers because of abundant sunlight availability and efficient use of water and nutrients. There is quicker growth, subsequently increasing productivity. Moreover, intercropping during the cane cultivation cycle yields 20 percent additional profits on investment.

In sugarcane cultivation, the seed is the main input cost, amounting to INR 25,000-30,000 per ha. The cost of seed can be greatly reduced by producing it in a special seed nursery as above. For this, farmers can be motivated by providing subsidies for shading nets, coco piths, vermicompost units, and plastic trays so that they can easily adopt this technique because they are usually hesitant to purchase new inputs. If the farmers are motivated to produce their seed by FSSI methods, the costs of production can be reduced, and a disease-free crop can be produced resulting in higher productivity of sugarcane in the SPOs region. If farmers can be motivated to produce their seed by FSSI methods, the costs of production can be reduced, and a disease-free crop can be produced resulting in higher productivity of sugarcane SPOs region.

‘’ Fairtrade NAPP will continue to support the producers who implement good projects which are beneficial to the Fairtrade community. This project will benefit all the members by reducing the water requirement, increasing yield and income.’’ Ranjith Kumar, Fairtrade Regional General Manager

 ‘’ Fairtrade NAPP will support the producers if they are interested in taking up new projects and make use of the opportunity. NAPP supports viable projects which will benefit the Fairtrade community’’ – Manoj Kumar, Fairtrade Program Consultant