Cargill pledges to restore 600 billion litres of water by 2030

Food and agribusiness giant Cargill has pledged to dramatically improve water management practices across its operations and priority watersheds in its supply chain by - a move it claims will restore 600 billion litres of water within a decade.

Cargill pledges to restore 600 billion litres of water by 2030

Of the freshwater used by humanity each year

The business’s new water management strategy outlines plans to support the adoption of regenerative agriculture practices throughout supply chains in a bid to reduce nutrient runoff and improve soil health – both factors which will result in the need for less fertilizer and water, while maximising crop yield.

Cargill will work with other stakeholders to pilot and scale up such practices, including Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences; the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the Iowa Soybean Association. These partnerships will pioneer new systems and technologies which improve irrigation, decrease the water consumption of farms, prevent nutrient loss and minimise water pollution through reduced pesticide and chemical use.

An additional target to provide the local communities of 25 watersheds with improved access to clean water and sanitation (WASH) infrastructure and education has also been set by Cargill. The business will finance the installation of improved pipes, pumps and taps at communal locations such as schools in developing regions, alongside nutrition and sanitation education programmes, following the success of such a support package in Indonesia, delivered in collaboration with CARE.

As for water use within its own operations, Cargill has worked with the Alliance for Water Stewardship to develop a roadmap for applying its standard to 81 of its facilities within the next five years. The cohort of facilities have been identified as “priority” due to their exposure to water stress or water pollution. The Alliance for Water Stewardship’s standard requires businesses to adopt a five-pronged approach to water management, consisting of data gathering on shared challenges; plan development; site-specific implementation; continual evaluation and public disclosure of results.

“The world relies on access to clean water for health, nutrition and economic prosperity,” Cargill’s chairman and chief executive Dave MacLennan said.

“We must find ways to improve water quality and availability in the communities where we live and work, while also advancing the sustainability and efficiencies of our supply chains. We are focusing on the specific challenges faced by local communities and watersheds to accelerate our positive impact.”

Thirsty work

Around 70% of the freshwater used by businesses annually is used by the agriculture sector, meaning that corporates operating in this sphere will need to dramatically improve their water stewardship efforts as megatrends like global warming, population growth and urbanisation continue.

The UN has estimated that, on a ‘business-as-usual’ trajectory, more than half of the global population will be living in water-scarce areas by 2050. Currently, a quarter of the world’s population across 17 countries are living in regions of extremely high water stress.

The good news is that many businesses are setting more ambitious targets around water management, and implementing water stewardship frameworks that are context-based – prioritising watersheds already facing challenges – and collaborative.

Unilever’s new sustainability strategy, for example, contains a commitment to implement water stewardship programmes for local communities in 100 locations by 2030. The likes of Diageo and Starbucks have also unveiled plans to accelerate water stewardship efforts in recent times, with the latter pledging to halve its water footprint within a decade.

Nonetheless, experts are widely in agreement that global food systems and water management systems are broken, and that collaborative initiatives beyond the four walls of any one business will be needed to fix them.

Sarah George

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