Farmers clear the air in Punjab

A large clay kiln that looks like the traditional Indian tandoor oven that’s been used in Indian cooking for 5,000 years is providing a simple, practical and sustainable way to let Punjabi farmers get rid of the stubble in their fields without polluting the air. At the same time, it provides biochar which helps them fertilize their fields naturally.

Every year, 27 million tonnes of corn and rice stubble are burned, releasing over 160 million tonnes of greenhouse gases. Much of the field burning is done by small and marginal farmers, who are under pressure to fit as many crop cycles as possible into a year. It’s how the farmers have done it for years, and they didn’t know any other way.

Until the Leo Burnett agency, which has worked with PepsiCo for a year, found a solution that cut pollution while recognizing the pressures on the 27,000 farmers who are part of PepsiCo India’s network of suppliers to multi-crop.

from Pepsico India’s Facebook page

PepsiCo and Leo Burnett collaborated with Punjab Agricultural University to design the low-tech and accessible solution. “It costs less than $150 dollars,” Rajdeepak Das, CEO and CCO at Leo Burnett South Asia and chairman of Publicis  Groupe’s South Asia creative council, told Little Black Book. “You need the bricks and mud and they come from the same land. You don’t need anything else.” The cost can be recovered in one crop cycle.

Tiny holes in the clay and brick kiln limit how much oxygen can enter the oven and reduces how much smoke is created as the oven turns the stubble into a carbon-rich fertiliser, known as biochar, an ancient method of soil enrichment dating back thousands of years in the Amazon.

The initial pilot in Punjab’s Sangrur district reduced pollution by 50%, while cutting fertilizer costs for farmers by 33% and increasing their crop yield by 19%. The Biochar Project is one of four profiled in a series of videos called Growing Our Future.

GIZ Bush Control and Biomass Utilisation Project/Wikimedia

It’s an invention that can be easily adopted by farmers elsewhere. “It can go to other countries. No one owns the copyright here. You build something and give it to people,” says Raj.

Biochar is just one initiative in PepsiCo’s push to spread regenerative farming practices across its supply chain. It aims to propagate regenerative farming in seven million acres by 2030.

Its Positive Agriculture Outcomes Fund is providing ongoing support to over 20 different projects around the world through grants totaling more than $7.4 million awarded in 2021 and 2022.

“We’re in a race to reach the world’s 1.5 degree target and, to do our part, PepsiCo has set a range of ambitious PepsiCo Positive goals, including expanding regenerative agriculture practices and building the resilience of those in our agricultural supply chain by preparing them for a changing climate,” said Rob Meyers, Vice President of Global Sustainable Agriculture. “Reaching PepsiCo’s – and our planet’s – goals will require fresh thinking and innovation from our agriculture teams and partners all over the world, which is why the PAO Fund was created to make it a bit easier for good ideas to get off the ground.”

The Lay’s BIochar Project won a silver award at the Cannes Lions Awards 2023. 


With the Biochar Project, PepsiCo and Leo Burnett Are Hoping to Clear the Skies. Little Black Book, Jul. 18, 2023

Improving air quality while enriching farmland with biochar in India. Pepsico, Oct. 19, 2022

PepsiCo Announces 2nd Round Of Projects Funded By Its Global Agriculture Accelerator. Business World India, Jul. 20, 2023

PepsiCo India extends pilot initiative in Punjab to address stubble burning. Times of India, Mar. 21, 2023

Cover image: CIAT, Wikimedia