The smiles of Female Sugarcane Growers under “Sustainable Business with Coca-Cola” Project

The four participants sat together on a long couch, smiling and laughing with each other as they celebrated their big win. Ms. Bangorn Tankrue (left), Ms. Lantom Jaichuen (2nd from left), and Ms. Suwanee Tongdornnoy (right) are all sugarcane growers who competed as a team in Coca-Cola’s financial literacy at the household level competition, which is one of the activities under the pilot project: “Sustainable Business with Coca-Cola: Female Sugarcane Growers Empowerment”. Khon Kaen Sugar Industry PCL (KSL) is also a co-partner for this pilot project, whose employee Mr. Adisak Lohawattanakij (middle) acted as the team leader for these three sugarcane growers.

The “Sustainable Business with Coca-Cola: Female Sugarcane Growers Empowerment” is designed and hosted by Kenan Institute Asia. It is an important mission for the Coca-Cola System in Thailand comprising of ThaiNamthip Co., Ltd., Haad Thip PCL. and Coca-Cola (Thailand) Ltd. The program aims to improve the livelihood of Thai female sugarcane growers in the form of shared value creation and sustainable growth by partnering with the sugar suppliers, which is a part of the ‘5by20’ global initiative aimed at economically empowering five million women across the company’s value chain around the world by 2020.

According to Ms. Tankrue, the past five years had been particularly hard for sugarcane growers in this region. Recent growing seasons have seen intense droughts which reduced the average sugarcane yields from 2,000 tons per year to less than 800. A year later, bad luck continued. There was a sugar cane disease that happened to the whole area of her sugarcane farm. Ms. Tankrue lost all of her savings and accumulated 900,000 Baht in debt during this period. KSL tried offering a loaning scheme to growers or tried to buy their land, but there was not enough crop yield to pay off the debts. With this financial trauma story, KSL saw the importance and benefit of financial literacy, partnering with the “Sustainable Business with Coca-Cola” program with the hope to help community members have better financial management skills to be able to save money, clear off debt, and finally have a better life.

Furthermore, before joining this program, none of the three women knew much about financial literacy or wellness. Ms. Jaichuen described how before the project she had no clear knowledge of finances and no idea how to organize her revenues and expenses. Not only was there a lack of financial knowledge among the women, but Ms. Tongdornnoy said there was not even a desire to be financially responsible, save money, or get out of debt.

But from the start, Mr. Lohawattanakij had faith in his team. “They definitely had the potential,” he said, “we just had to teach them the skills.” Mr. Lohawattanakij understood that his team members knew their income, but not their expenses. So, in the early stages of the project, Mr. Lohawattanakij came up with a concrete formula about income and expenses that the team members would use each time they spent money so they would understand their revenues and expenses.

Every day, the three women would visit each other to keep themselves accountable. They would update each other about the market prices of everyday things like food and gas — Ms. Tankrue even created a chart that tracked the prices. In order to earn some extra income, the three women began selling items on the side such as vegetables, fruits, and herbs, to expand their product portfolios. Budgeting, reducing expenses, and saving became main components of the team’s plan; and, as the women became more conscious of their incomes and expenses, their debts gradually began to decrease.

After completing the financial literacy project, all three of the team members have new hope. Ms. Tongdornnoy said Kenan financial literacy training has helped her, and her teammates, come together and learn more about finances. She was also thankful to Coca-Cola for this program and said that this project has increased her confidence in achieving her goals. For Ms. Jaichuen, before this project, she had so much debt that she could not afford education for her children. Now that she has a solid understanding of her financial situation and how to manage debts and expenses, she is spending money on her children’s education for the first time. Ms. Jaichuen is still paying off her debts, but she is now saving money so she can invest in insurance. Ms. Tankrue said this project gave her the feeling that she has control over her life and can make the future better for her family.

As for Mr. Lohawattanakij, he is incredibly proud of his team’s accomplishments within the scope of the project. But what he is most proud of is the bonds they created together. “These women have known each other for 20 years but were never close,” he said, “But now, they are like a family and they can’t spend a day apart from each other. The pride I feel for this team isn’t from winning the competition. The pride is from seeing us overcome obstacles as a team and become a family.”

Kenan Asia

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