World Wildlife Fund Sustainability Works

Three New Corporations Take on Sustainable Agriculture: A Win for Water and Climate Resilience

  • Date: 22 March 2021
  • Author: Dr. Beth Hooker, Senior Manager of Water and Agriculture Resilience, Ceres; and Nicole Tanner, Manager of Corporate Water Stewardship, WWF

The world stands to see $10 trillion wiped off the global economy over the next 30 years due to climate change. Extreme weather will be more commonplace, droughts and floods will increase in frequency and severity, and water scarcity will be an ever-present threat. Yet freshwater ecosystems can be one of our most effective tools in adapting to climate change. Wetlands are a natural buffer against the most extreme events—soaking up heavy rainfall and regulating water flows, as well as storing and releasing water slowly—protecting against the most severe impacts of floods and droughts. Safeguarding these resources is essential for increasingly climate-stressed agricultural communities.

Agriculture continues to be the number one threat to freshwater systems globally which is why it is more important than ever that key players in the industry come together to protect the resource that underpins human health, economies and climate solutions: water. In 2016, Ceres and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) launched the AgWater Challenge to encourage leading food and beverage companies to carry out sustainable agricultural practices that are locally relevant and account for crop types, climate variations, and regional economic and cultural practices. Since its inception, the AgWater Challenge has partnered with nine corporations to advance commitments to better address water in agricultural sustainability programs.

This year, Ceres and WWF welcome three major agricultural companies to the Challenge: owner of iconic dairy and plant-based brands, Danone North America; leading sweetener and starch producer, Ingredion; and global food, confectionery and petcare company Mars, Incorporated. The 2021 AgWater Challenge added a new specific focus, calling on companies to address soil health and nutrient management practices that improve water outcomes in high-risk watersheds. These commitments go beyond traditional corporate water stewardship goals, emphasizing local to global action. It’s a people-centered approach, starting with the farmers who tend the land—making sustainable water use both practical and profitable for them—and including other local stakeholders to build up to collective watershed action. Take that local action and apply it to the supply chains of some of the world’s largest multinational companies, and it’s easy to see the kind of impact the AgWater Challenge stands to make.

Specifically, by 2025 Danone will expand its existing work to promote soil health and water outcomes on 82,000 acres of dairy feed and almond crops, plus another 18,000 acres in regions across the US. These efforts focus on two commodities that represent the largest share of Danone North America’s parent company’s global exposure to water risks. Ingredion has committed to adopting regenerative agricultural practices on 500,000 acres of crops, including corn, tapioca, and others, grown in high-risk watersheds by 2027. By 2030, they intend to double that goal, with 1 million acres. Mars will be working in high-risk watersheds in U.S. and Spain to support sustainable agriculture practices and programs on over 40,000 acres of rice farms. These regions are critical to the company’s journey to sustainable water usage, a commitment recognized as part of its Sustainable in a Generation Plan to eliminate unsustainable water use in its value chain - starting with a 50% reduction by 2025.

Along with acreage commitments, all three companies will create incentive programs for farmers to make sure these sustainable practices continue in the long term. They are also embracing collective action, each committing to engage other stakeholders to scale their efforts.

Protecting our watersheds should be our first line of defense in stabilizing and adapting to a warming planet, which is why some of the world’s most influential companies are working with suppliers and farmers to chart a path to climate- and water- smart agriculture. Not only is it the right thing to do—it’s critical if they want to continue to operate into the future. Food and beverage companies in the AgWater Challenge set an important precedent for the necessary work corporations must do to address water protection and climate change. But they cannot do it alone. We need mass adoption across the private sector to look within their supply chains and set time bound commitments for effective watershed management. Ceres and WWF welcome other food and beverage companies to join the AgWater Challenge and ensure a water-secure future that bolsters farm productivity and watershed health.

Learn more about new 2021 commitments and how your company can participate in the AgWater Challenge by visiting this webpage.