Over the next 30 years, thanks to global population growth, demand for water will increase by 20%-30%, according to the UN. At the same time, rising average temperatures and frequent droughts caused by climate change are making fresh water more scarce. This is bad for everyone, including the $5 trillion food and agribusiness sector, since these businesses depend on cheap water supplies.
Also, food companies bear some responsibility for water scarcity, since agriculture is draining aquifers globally, and some sectors are major polluters of watersheds, according to Brooke Barton, vice president of innovation and evaluation at Ceres, a nonprofit that works with businesses to address climate change.
Barton was co-author of a report just published by Ceres called Feeding Ourselves Thirsty: Tracking Food Company Progress Toward a Water-Smart Future about the rapidly growing water crisis. It offers guidance and data for investors to evaluate the water risk assessment, disclosure and management practices of major public companies in agricultural products, beverage, meat and packaged food industries. The bottom line conclusion: Major companies in the food sector aren’t doing enough.
Implications for Food Entrepreneurs
For food entrepreneurs and small businesses, however, there is an opportunity to take the lead, according to Barton. That is particularly true for those focusing on sustainable farming and more-resilient agriculture methods in their supply chains. “These companies have the opportunity to help build resilience with the farmers they source from,” says Barton.
According to Barton, one of most important ways to manage water risk and extreme weather events is through building better soil. “Protecting soil