Increasing water scarcity threatens global food production. Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for people living in poverty around the world, specifically in rural areas and is pivotal to the economies of many low-income countries.

Looking down on a landscape of hills covered in coffee plants near Manizales, ColombiaPhoto: Jess Kraft / Shutterstock

The agricultural sector is traditionally the largest water user of all sectors, and is under increasing pressure to reduce its use due to competing demands. Both regulatory and economic incentives provide this pressure as well as growing concerns from consumers. Buyers and retailers must take responsibility by addressing water in their supply chains. All sectors, not least the agricultural sector, should work proactively to mitigate water scarcity and associated risks.

The multi-stakeholder group (MSG) on Water and Food, active 2014-2016, had the objective to improve sustainability in supply chains of Swedish food and beverage companies, focusing on agricultural water management in particular. The group developed a water guide, presenting the best available tools and resources that can help companies identify water risks in their supply chain, prioritize efforts, measure water impact and take action as well as communicate and report results to stakeholders. The collaboration also led to all companies conducting water risk assessments by using the tools, which helped companies begin a dialogue with agricultural suppliers regarding water related issues.

Following the MSG, SIWI, ICA, Axfood and Santa Maria implemented a pilot project with the support of Sida. The project explored the implementation potential and scalability of two tools which promise improvement of agricultural water management. In 2017, five field visits were undertaken, including to India and Peru, together with business representatives from ICA, Axfood, Hermansson & Co, Santa Maria, and Systembolaget. The results from Peru are presented in the report “To the Last Drop”, produced by Swedwatch and Diakonia, with support from SIWI (also available in Spanish). The report calls for Swedish companies to take more responsibility for the water impact of their production.