Water is one of the most critical aspects of sustainable agriculture, both for the industry itself, and for its impacts on the natural environment and other water users. Agriculture is responsible for 70% of the world’s freshwater withdrawals, and up to 90% in some developing countries. The agricultural sector, therefore, provides a vital opportunity to improve global water stewardship over the coming decades of increasing population and water demand.
Water stewardship has two key objectives in the agricultural sector:
- To protect a farming operation from water-related risks
- To demonstrate social responsibility by minimizing negative impacts of a farming operation on other water users and the natural environment.
This document provides practical guidance on the steps required for farm level water stewardship in a catchment context. There are already many tools and guidance documents on corporate water stewardship, some specifically including agriculture. Most ‘make the case’ for water stewardship and are a strong driver for action. They give an overview of types of risk likely to be important, but cannot accurately define actual and site-specific risk. The main value of global tools is in providing a high level and first pass assessment. Site-specific knowledge and choosing of site-specific actions can only be achieved through a local level assessment with specialist support. More discussion on global tools is given in Appendix 2.
The target audience of this document is business leaders and managers who recognize the need for farm level water stewardship (whether on their own or suppliers’ farms) but who are not water experts. The aim is to empower key decision makers:
- To understand the scope and steps of farm level water stewardship
- To understand where specialist experts are required
- To be in a stronger position to make the right practical and investment choices
- To be better equipped to support CSR reporting on water related issues
- To be better informed for communication on water stewardship
The current document addresses the three practical key elements on the road to farm level water stewardship. These are:
- Knowledge: a prerequisite to reliable risk assessment
- Risk: from two aspects (i) risks to the farm, and (ii) risks from the farm to others and the natural environment 3. Actions: to address and mitigate risks