Nestlé ranks people alongside water as a growing ‘scarce resource’

One of Nestlé's senior representatives has highlighted the rising threat of unsustainable water use and its potentially devastating effects on global food security over the next 40 years.

Speaking on a panel for the World Economic Forum in East Asia last month, Nestlé’s executive vice president Nandu Nandkishore recounted a ‘startling statistic’ he had heard -during the next 40 years the world will have to produce as much food as it has done over the past 4,000 years to cope with the predicted rise in human population from seven billion to 9.5 billion by 2050.

“For many reasons we need to double our production of food on an annual basis between now and the year 2050. What do you need for food production? You need land – we aren’t making any more of it, we need sunshine – there’s plenty of that around, we need people and we need water,” he told delegates.

“People and water are the two scarce resources,” he continued. “People because children of farmers don’t want to be farmers, farmers don’t want their children to follow them simply because of lack of sustainability and the high risk nature of the smallholder agricultural model that exists.”

Precious commodity

Nandkishore warned that freshwater use was also becoming an urgent issue due to our dependency on it for food production.

“Seventy per cent of all the freshwater used by mankind is used for agriculture to grow food,” he observed. “Today we use freshwater which is 10% in excess of replenishment levels, so we are tapping into aquifers that have been built over millennia. The forecast is that by 2030 to grow food [we] will be using freshwater at a rate of 60% higher than the replenishment levels.”

He added: “Man has survived for millennia without iron, without silicon, without oil and carbon. We can’t survive more than two days without water and yet we are looking at a scenario where over the next 30 years the most precious commodity in the world will be water.”

According to Nandkishorem, sustainable use of water must be the first issue that companies, governments, farmers and NGOs need to address before looking at other barriers, such as access and pricing. “We need to create a multi-stakeholder platform to make sure our use of water is sustainable, that is a key platform,” he said.

Through its Creating Shared Value programme, Nestlé is working directly with farmers within its supply chain to look at encouraging more efficient water use on land. Back in March, edie reported that the global food giant was also progressing on reducing water consumption across its European production sites.

Maxine Perella

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