Food companies target water risks in global supply chains

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2016 - Seven major food companies today announced commitments to work with thousands of growers in their global supply chains to reduce water use and pollution impacts.

The seven companies - Diageo, General Mills, Hain Celestial, Hormel Foods, Kellogg, PepsiCo, and WhiteWave Foods - are participants in what they call the AgWater Challenge, a collaborative initiative organized by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Ceres. As part of the challenge, companies must submit detailed sustainable sourcing and water stewardship plans meeting specific criteria. Ceres and WWF will evaluate and report on companies' progress against their commitments in one year.

 “Major food brands can be a powerful and constructive force for scaling water stewardship, especially at the farm level where the biggest footprint is by far,” Brooke Barton, senior director of Water and Food at the nonprofit sustainability group Ceres, said in a news release. “These brands recognize the material financial impact that water risks pose to their business, from supply disruptions, to higher operating costs, to growth constraints. More than ever, companies are responding to these supply risks through farmer incentives, local partnerships and bottom line reductions.”

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The groups note that a third of the world's food is grown in areas of high water stress or competition, and agriculture is a leading cause of water pollution worldwide. And they point out that the food sector, which uses 70 percent of global freshwater supplies, primarily for growing crops, can play a critical role at protecting limited freshwater resources by working with farmers to become more water smart.

“Mismanagement of our increasingly stressed freshwater resources presents a serious risk to life on Earth-wildlife and humans,” said Lindsay Bass, the WWF's manager of Corporate Water Stewardship. “The purpose of the Challenge is to encourage these companies to understand and address agricultural water risks, and share the knowledge picked up along the way. We all have a mutual interest in protecting the world's most stressed water resources.”

Commitments by Challenge participants include:

•           PepsiCo will work with its agricultural suppliers to improve the water-use efficiency of its direct agricultural supply chain by 15 percent by 2025 (compared to 2015) in high-water-risk sourcing areas, including India and Mexico;

•           Hain Celestial is setting a new sustainable sourcing goal for key agricultural inputs, including a commitment to strengthen water and fertilizer management practices of farmers in its ingredient and protein supply chains;

•           Hormel Foods will develop a comprehensive water stewardship policy, setting water management expectations that go beyond regulatory compliance for its major suppliers, contract animal growers and feed suppliers - a meat industry first.  Hormel Foods will also support and engage with growers in high water risk regions by gathering water-related data from contract growers and growers that supply animal feed - and establishing time-bound goals aimed at improving water quality in high water risk regions; and

•           WhiteWave Foods will develop a time-bound road map for agricultural water stewardship over the next 24 months that addresses shared water challenges facing their key commodities (dairy, soy, almond and produce in particular) in areas of greatest water risk, including California.

In addition to new commitments, the AgWater Challenge recognizes companies with far-reaching, ongoing commitments. Diageo, General Mills, and Kellogg were recognized as AgWater Stewards for showing action across all five categories of the groups' AgWater Challenge checklist - from water risk assessments and setting reduction goals, to reducing water risk in agricultural supply chains and supporting producers in addressing these issues.

Among these companies' commitments:

•           Diageo committed, by 2020, to establish partnerships with farmers to develop sustainable agricultural supplies of key six raw materials, reaching 90% of raw materials purchased: Barley, Maize, Agave, Aniseed, Sugar/Molasses, and Sorghum/Cassava, and to equip its suppliers with tools to protect water resources in the most water stressed locations in 7 African countries.

•           General Mills completed a comprehensive risk assessment, including water use and water quality risks, of all raw materials bought worldwide, and a global water risk assessment of all its production facilities and growing regions, identifying 8 high-risk watersheds. It is partnering with local stakeholders on sustainable sourcing through collective action and policy advocacy in several high-water risk regions, including in California.

•           Kellogg Company committed to responsibly source its global 10 priority ingredients (including rice, wheat, corn and sugar beets), by measuring continuous improvement for row crops through metrics focused on water, fertilizer use and other factors and is supporting 17,000 agricultural suppliers, millers and farmers across 22 different countries to optimize water use and enhance watershed quality, such as by providing financial and agronomic assistance.

The AgWater Challenge aims to spur companies to make time-bound and measurable commitments to reduce the water impacts associated with key agricultural commodities, implement locally-relevant strategies to mitigate risk in agricultural areas where water is scarce or polluted and support and incentivize farmers to strengthen water stewardship practices.

To be named an AgWater Steward, companies had to complete minimal criteria, including setting a time-bound goal for completing a water risk assessment across their supply chains and setting sustainable sourcing goals. While all companies went beyond the minimum criteria, the AgWater Challenge recognizes that all companies' efforts are a work in progress.

WWF and Ceres will complete a more in-depth analysis of the companies' water stewardship efforts and report on their progress in one year.

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In spring 2017, Ceres will evaluate the companies' adherence to their commitments through the release its second “Feeding Ourselves Thirsty” report, which benchmarks global food and beverage companies on their water management practices. All of the AgWater Stewards will be benchmarked in the report, along with several dozen additional companies.

Ceres is a non-profit that is mobilizing many of the world's largest companies and investors to take stronger action on climate change, water scarcity and other global sustainability challenges. Ceres directs the Investor Network on Climate Risk, a group of 120 institutional investors managing about $14 trillion assets focused on the business risks and opportunities of climate change. Ceres also engages with 100-plus companies, many of them Fortune 500 businesses, committed to sustainable business practices and the urgency for strong climate and clean energy policies.

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