Reducing water consumption in agriculture

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), agriculture consumes around 70 per cent of the world’s fresh water. In countries with scarce water resources this is becoming increasingly problematic.

We therefore support various measures aimed at ensuring efficient use of water in agriculture in these countries. Together with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, we performed a comprehensive risk analysis regarding water. In addition, water stress in the countries producing our fruit and vegetables was studied in order to determine whether there is enough precipitation and the extent to which water as a resource is (over)exploited.

More efficient water use

Based on the results, we decided to implement various measures with fruit and vegetable producers in the Mediterranean region, as well as in South America and South Africa.

    • WWF water standard: Together with WWF Spain, we have developed a standard for sustainable water use in the production of fruit and vegetables. Pilot audits of major producers in the water-critical countries of Spain, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Peru and South Africa identified the weak points and enabled us to initiate targeted optimization measures.
    • Local water compensation: In the Agadir region of Morocco we worked together with the Coop Sustainability Fund to determine the quantity of water that is used in the production of fruit and vegetables for us. An equivalent quantity is now being saved in the same region through measures such as rainwater collection and drip irrigation.
    • Targeted irrigation: In strawberry cultivation in Spain we have started measuring the moisture content of the soil with our producers and only irrigating when necessary, thereby ensuring a reduction of around 30 per cent in water consumption.

Involvement in international committees and alliances

As a resource that is used worldwide, water therefore also needs global approaches to finding solutions for securing sustainable use. This is why we are committed to sustainable water management from an overall perspective.

    • Water Stakeholder Committee from GlobalG.A.P.: GlobalG.A.P. is a standard for good agricultural practice that covers the entire production process, from seed sowing to delivery. Through our active participation in this committee, we have succeeded in ensuring that comprehensive criteria for efficient water usage are integrated in this standard. 
    • Water Benefit Partners: We are a member of this public-private partnership, which promotes innovative financing models in the area of water, enabling the effective reductions in water consumption to be recorded in concrete projects and certified. These certificates can then be traded, with the proceeds being (re)invested in the project.

Individual projects in countries of the southern hemisphere

We also support smallholders and producers outside Europe to develop more efficient water management through knowledge and technology.

    • Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS): Together with the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), we launched a pilot project for the implementation of this new water standard with our main asparagus producer in Peru. This project involved providing training to producers, NGOs, the local population and representatives of the local government in sustainable water management and subsequent auditing.
  • Small irrigation systems: Together, our purchasing group Core (Rewe, Colruyt, Conad, Système U) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) have equipped more than 30,000 rural households in India, Africa and Central America with modern small irrigation systems that can be used to irrigate small areas from 20 square metres. These systems enable smallholders to save water, increase productivity and, on top of this, work with organic fertilizer that they have produced themselves. Naturally, we provide the farmers with training in how to use the systems and produce their own fertilizer. Thanks to these irrigation systems, many farmers are now able to produce fruit and vegetables for the local market in their own gardens. Alongside their income from the sale of fair trade products to us, they therefore have an additional income that helps to promote food security.

    Agriculture in Madagascar
    Agriculture in Madagascar
    Equipment for a small irrigation system
    Equipment for a small irrigation system
    Demonstration of the new irrigation system
    Demonstration of the new irrigation system
    Selection of seeds
    Selection of seeds
    Targeted irrigation
    Targeted irrigation
    Reading on work done
    Reading on work done

Principles and topics