The global food sector uses more than 70% of the world’s freshwater supply, most of this for growing crops. Through their massive purchasing power, the companies that buy, process and sell the food we eat have the power to raise the bar for sustainable water use in farming. Through the AgWater Challenge, Ceres and WWF have identified the key ingredients of meaningful agricultural water stewardship by food & beverage companies. Here is the recipe:
INGREDIENT #1: Assess water risks in key agricultural sourcing regions
Agricultural supply chains are opaque and complicated. Risk assessments play a key role in helping companies identify which major agricultural inputs and sourcing regions are most exposed to water-related risks water scarcity, fertilizer run-off and climate change. Once these risks are understood, companies can then develop a more effective response to them.
Example: General Mills, with support from key NGO partners WWF, Rainforest Alliance and The Nature Conservancy, mapped regions where the company’s priority ingredients faced the greatest threats from water shortages. The company then completed a global water risk assessment of all production facilities and growing regions to give a clear picture of the most at-risk watersheds within their supply chain. This work now allows the company to target the most material and at-risk watersheds where they can have significant impact.
INGREDIENT #2: Set sustainable agriculture policies that address water risks
Overarching policies outline expectations and aspirations for company sustainability performance and provide clear definitions for key terms like “sustainable sourcing” and “water stewardship.” Further, this guidance outlines key performance indicators for procurement staff, and sets fundamental requirements for suppliers and producers.
Example: At Kellogg Company, suppliers are expected to support the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility commitments, including Kellogg’s Global Supplier Code of Conduct and Supplier Resource Guide. Responsible sourcing commitments are part of the annual incentive plan and performance against these commitments is part of category managers’ annual compensation. For suppliers, responsible sourcing is embedded in supplier scorecards and integrated into their sourcing events.
INGREDIENT #3: Set time-bound goals to reduce water impacts of key crops
Sustainable sourcing goals should cover ALL key agricultural inputs and include definitions that highlight water-related criteria and encourage better water stewardship as a way to drive continuous improvement in major commodity supply chains.
Example: PepsiCo has pledged to improve the water-use efficiency of its direct agricultural supply chain by 2025, aiming for a 15 percent improvement in high water risk sourcing areas, using a 2015 baseline. The achievement of this goal would conserve a volume of water that is approximately equivalent to the entire water use of all PepsiCo direct operations.
INGREDIENT #4: Support farmers to steward water resources
Many farmers lack information, training or financial incentives that may be needed to adjust their farming practices in ways that reduce water risks and impacts. Corporate buyers play a critical role—both directly and in partnership with supply chain partners, NGOs, government and academia—in channeling appropriate educational resources and financial incentives to growers that improve on-farm practices and mitigate their own risks.
Example: Diageo has committed to equip suppliers with tools to protect water resources in the most water stressed locations by 2020. In Kenya, the company is mitigating risks with a strategy that focuses on several activities, such as: working with experts to assess climate change impacts on barley growing; investment in water storage capacity for farmers, along with implementation of WASH projects with farming communities; and convening a wide range of stakeholders, including NGOs, other businesses and government agencies, to form the Nairobi Water Roundtable, a collaboration among stakeholders on solutions to the water security issues in the area.
INGREDIENT #5: Collaborate at the watershed level to protect resources in high-risk areas
When there is water scarcity and poor water quality in a watershed, everyone is at risk, farmers, businesses and communities alike. While corporate efforts to mitigate water risks inside their own factory walls is vital, any efficiencies gained can be wiped away through poor management of collective water resources by other water users. Food companies must play a role in helping catalyze collective solutions to water challenges, including supporting public policies that lead to more sustainable water management.
Example: General Mills and WhiteWave Foods are advocating for better water policy in specific agricultural sourcing regions with high water risks via water-centric policy platforms, including the Ceres Connect the Drops platform in California and the Colorado Basin’s Business for Water Stewardship effort.
Ceres and WWF urge other food and beverage companies to take up the challenge and embrace water stewardship beyond their four walls, deep into their supply chains. It’s time for the sector as a whole to address freshwater, the precious resource that all agricultural supply chains hinge upon.