Why groundwater matters in agricultural supply chains

Not only is groundwater invisible to many, it is also often unseen in the products we consume.

Groundwater is a hidden resource that is slow to replenish, especially when extracted from aquifers in water stressed regions.

Agriculture accounts for 70% of human freshwater consumption, and approximately 40% of this is groundwater[1]. Food we consume in Europe, such as Indian or South African grapes, and avocados from Chile and Peru, are often grown using groundwater.

This precious resource is shared amongst agricultural producers, communities and nature in food-producing regions, and then is traded and moved around the world to reach the plate of the consumer.

Imagine all the ecosystems and communities you could be connected to in one meal, just by the food on your plate.

With increasing demand for global food production, trends show an even greater reliance on groundwater in many parts of the world. With the additional pressure of climate change on already severe water crises, the food sector is exposed to greater water risks in its global supply chain.

Over the last decade, we have worked together with our strategic partners EDEKA and WWF Germany to engage with key stakeholders throughout agricultural supply chains, raising awareness of the benefits of water stewardship and creating opportunities for collaboration with other water users on shared water challenges.

Water stewardship is a collaborative and multi-stakeholder approach that allows you to look at the ‘big picture’ when it comes to water use. It involves managing a site’s direct water impacts (water management), and then also working with others in the catchment area you rely on to address shared water risks and challenges (water stewardship). For example, a banana farm in an area experiencing water scarcity might be managing its water use as well as possible, but without working with other stakeholders at both a local and national level, it will continue to face water risks. That’s why we celebrate the work of 11 banana farms in Colombia, that worked together with stakeholders to address shared water challenges.

One way in which AWS is helping members to collaborate is through our global Agriculture Working Group. The group is enabling us to identify opportunities to combine water stewardship efforts, whilst creating a space for networking and knowledge exchange. Together with committed AWS Members, we are helping to set the agenda for water stewardship in the agricultural sector and, where there are barriers, we are identifying opportunities to collectively overcome them.

Water stewardship isn’t easy, but that makes collaboration even more important. We would encourage anyone working in this field to get in touch and join the working group, so that we can work together to take rigorous, credible action throughout global value chains from the farm to catchment scale.

Collaboration is key to tackling water risks, both globally and locally. We hope you will join us to increase visibility and awareness on this issue and work together to build greater water resilience.  


Apply to join the working group at a4ws.org

[1] Unsustainable groundwater use for global food production and related international trade | Global Sustainability | Cambridge Core