Around $10 trillion is being projected to get wiped off from the global economy over the next 30 years due to climate change. Extreme weather, warmer temperatures, and sea-level rise are largely expected to be the primary cause of damage to property and infrastructure, affect human health and productivity and negatively affect agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and tourism. Harsh weather will be incessant, floods and droughts will be more commonplace and will increase in severity, and water scarcity will be a looming threat to all nations. Water resources are fast deteriorating. Increased salinity in coastal areas and receding levels of groundwater have raised alarm across the world. To tackle this, freshwater ecosystems can be our most effective tool in adjusting to climate change. In contrast to marine ecosystems which have larger salinity, freshwater ecosystems are primarily constituted by lakes, ponds, rivers, springs, and wetlands. Being natural buffers against extreme events, wetlands soak up heavy precipitation and regulate water flows, moreover store and release water slowly. They also guarantee protection against floods and droughts. Preserving these resources is fundamental for increasing climate-affected agricultural communities.
Although the plight of these communities is pitiable as their livelihoods are being affected by climate change, agriculture prevails to be the primary threat to freshwater systems across the globe. This increases the need to conserve the resource that underpins the economies, human health, and climate solutions: water. World Wildlife Fund and Ceres, in 2016, launched the AgWater Challenge to prompt leading beverage and food companies to plan policies promoting sustainable agricultural practices. These are to be locally relevant and in line with climate variations, crop types, and regional, cultural and economic practices. Since its initiation, the AgWater Challenge has collaborated with nine corporations to advance responsibilities to properly address water sustainability programs.
In 2021, WWF and Ceres are planning to welcome three major agricultural companies to the Challenge:
a) Danone North America- the owner of the dairy and plant-based brands,
b) Ingredion- leading sweetener and starch producer
c) Mars, Incorporated- Global food, confectionery, and pet care company
This year’s AgWater Challenge added a new focus and called on companies to address soil health and nutrient management practices to improve water conditions in high-risk watersheds. These responsibilities go beyond conventional corporate water stewardship goals, spotlighting local to global action. The Challenge got crafted as a person-centred approach, beginning with the farmers and making sustainable water use both practical and profitable for them, to local stakeholders to build collective watersheds. With this blending of local action and supply chains of some of the world’s largest multinational companies, the impact of the challenge will be multifold. Many prominent companies such as L&T, Kotak Mahindra, IndusInd Bank, and Ultratech Cement have already included policies to promote sustainable practices within their structure, the latest to hop on the bandwagon is Danone, Mars, and Ingredion.
Danone has projected expansion of its existing work to promote soil health and water capacitation on 82,000 acres of fairy feed and almond crops by the year 2025. Another 18,000 acres are also planned to get added across the US. Ingredion has adopted regenerative agricultural practices on 500,000 acres of crops, where cash crops like tapioca and corn will be grown in high-risk watersheds until 2027. Ingredion intends to double that goal by the year 2030. Mars plans to work in high-risk watersheds in U.S. and Spain to support sustainable agricultural practices over 40,000 acres of rice farms. Besides agricultural commitments, these companies will also create incentives for farmers to ensure these practices continue in the long term. Collective action to engage other stakeholders to scale their efforts is also getting embraced by the companies.
Protection of watersheds is one of the primary lines of defence in stabilizing and adjusting to a warming planet, the reason why some of the most capable and influential companies are working in close association with farmers and suppliers for water-smart production. It’s critical for continuing to operate in the future. Although they have set a precedent, the food and beverage companies cannot do it alone. We need mass action and the adoption of similar policies across the private sector to organize their supply chains and set time-bound responsibilities for effective watershed management.
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