In light of World Water Day plate2planet caught up with Alex Adam from The Rivers Trust, and Conor Linstead from WWF-UK who are both involved in the Courtauld Commitment. The Courtauld commitment is a voluntary agreement aimed at reducing waste within the UK grocery sector and improving resource efficiency.
We discussed their stance on the current global and U.K impact of the global water crisis, and the knock on effect it has for agriculture and the supply chain system. We covered the impact it’s having now and the risks for the future, and what we can do to become a good water steward .
Why should food manufacturers be concerned about water scarcity?
Globally four to five billion people experience water scarcity for at least one month of the year, which is a staggering number that’s only set to increase. WWF mapped out the main countries at risk, and found they were: Algeria, Morocco, Egypt and India. The crops and food that tend to be most at risk are tropical fruits, peanuts, apples, rice and wheat.
Some crops are at particularly high risk because they tend to be grown in climates that are water scarce, and the very growing of those crops is a contributor to water scarcity. So there is a general ranking of crops that are more exposed to water scarcity than others. Statistically, 50% of our food is imported, and it’s estimated that 15% of that is at high water risk.
In the U.K, we either have too much or too little water, or the water quality that we have is too poor. A mere 14% of water bodies in England are defined as being in a “good” ecological state, which is a 3% decline over the last 6 years. In terms of water availability in the UK, its projected that by 2045 , with impact of population growth and climate change its projected that demand for water will exceed supply point that is commonly known as the `jaws of death`. This will be particularly challenging for the agricultural sector which is projected to need 64% more water than it currently has.
What impact does the issue have commercially?
Globally it depends on the particular places they are sourcing from, if they are sourcing from the same place they are essentially putting all of their eggs in one basket. Drought and water scarcity can hugely affect not only produce quality, but also affect production volumes. If businesses are sourcing all of their commodities from one particular supply area, especially those in water scarce areas, it could run the risk of the entire supply chain failing, if that already water scarce area suffers from a drought.
From a UK perspective, every business irrespective of the sector is reliant on water to a greater or lesser degree. When it comes to food processing and manufacturing there’s a considerable amount of investment into operations and factories. Subject to the locations there’s a material risk for some operations being unable to function due to a lack of water in future. Conversely, as has been experienced by the recent floods, an excess of water can have a devastating impact on operations. Fortunately there are a range of solutions , many of which are nature based that can be implemented to reduce the risks of both water scarcity and flooding to your business and others. Fortunately many of these solutions can be easy and relatively cheap to implement and can provide a range of environmental benefits . These `multiple benefits` can include: carbon sequestration, improvements to soil health and increased biodiversity.
What can we do to take action now?
- Map out the supply chains you are using or considering using down to the farm level where this is feasible. For commodities and crops identify the regions they are being sourced from.
- Once you have identified where the regions are, overlay sourcing volumes with water risk analyses using tools like the Water Risk Filter (http://waterriskfilter.panda.org) to determine most material locations.
- Understand the context in those places – consider working with suppliers/grower to adopt water stewardships standards.
- Provide support to suppliers/growers to engage in collective action to manage water risks within a catchment . The Courtauld 2025 commitment to water provides a ready-made platform for doing this, and a means of mobilising others in the sector to really scale up by engaging in how water is managed at a catchment scale.
- Adopt a robust water stewardship approach, to managing water within the business. Start to really understand water use and the impact it is having within your business.
- Understand the impact of risk, what is the effect of water within your operations and through your supply chains.
- Put a plan together to address the risks that you have direct control over and those that you can influence by working with others.