Agro-food companies and tackling water risk management

Paul Reig is responsible for managing the World Resources Institute’s corporate engagement on water and their Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas

In advance of our conference next week tackling this: “Can innovation and technology make agriculture sustainable? – 5-6 April 2018 – Washington DC ”  we thought we’d send him a few questions about his work, and how companies can improve their water impacts in agriculture.

How are agro-food companies tackling water risk management now and what needs to be done in the near future for these efforts to be scaled?

“Agro-food companies recognize the impacts water risks can have on their bottom line, and are acting accordingly to mitigate them. Companies currently rely heavily on internal knowledge, passed on from one generation to the next, to manage their exposure to water-related risks. Increasingly, they also rely on support from consultants, as well as local and institutional partnerships with academia, governments and NGOs. Solutions to water risks are often very local and context-specific, making the scalability of solutions challenging and not always relevant.

However, there are certain best-practice processes and approaches to water risk management that can and should be scaled across companies and sectors. Industry standards and certifications help accomplish this. For example, standards and certifications can facilitate the adoption of best-in-class water risk management practices by streamlining information and making it accessible and comprehensive to all organizations across the agricultural value chain.”

Paul Reig

What are some innovations and initiatives that excite you most in water risk management?

“Increased connectivity between decision-makers, advanced computing capabilities to conduct on-demand predictive analytics, access to long-term climatic records, and new sensor and satellite technologies that can provide real-time monitoring are all areas of innovation that are extremely exciting.

These areas of innovation will generate new information that will in turn support open source water risk assessment tools like the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas – making data more accurate and useful to decision-makers. These developments have huge potential to change how we manage water-related risks in agriculture, and across sectors.

In addition, anything that facilitates the adoption of precision agriculture is going to be helpful, both in terms of reducing risks and increasing yields, while maintaining or increasing profits.”

What are the factors that lead to water stewardship success in agriculture, in your opinion?

“Successful water stewardship in agriculture requires strong, long-term commitments from the private sector. Companies need to be in it for the long haul. From the public sector, successful stewardship requires adequate governance of water resources, with clear caps and allocations on agricultural water withdrawals based on resource availability, and water pricing that reflects both the cost and value of water for agricultural systems.”

Corporate water disclosure standards and ESG water risk ratings – have each of these made a difference? What’s the evidence?

“Yes, over the past decade, corporate water disclosure standards and ESG water risk ratings have raised awareness of water risks in agriculture. As a result, ESG standards and ratings have helped involve new stakeholder groups in the water stewardship conversation. Evidence of this is an increase in the number of shareholder resolutions related to water and agriculture, and the steady growth in the number of companies disclosing on water.”

Watershed restoration projects, how can companies support these effectively, is anyone doing this?

“The most effective way to support watershed restoration projects is via collective action initiatives, where stakeholder platforms exist to help coordinate actions and investments amongst watershed actors. To be successful, these efforts must keep in mind the desired end state for the watershed, and the needs of all stakeholder groups.

In terms of who is doing this, a few examples include the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform, the Nature Conservancy, WWF, the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative, and EDF. Furthermore, WRI’s Natural Infrastructure for Water project helps build the case by evaluating how investments in watershed restoration can be beneficial to a company’s bottom line.”

More on Paul’s work can be found here. Details of next week’s conference are here. (Some of the world’s largest companies, agricultural experts, and others all attending including Mars, Nestle, Walmart and many others)

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