Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

16 October 2023

World Food Day

Companies need to become water stewards ensuring that water use is socially and culturally equitable, environmentally sustainable, and economically beneficial. 

Organizations need to move beyond their immediate site to understand where they obtain their water supply, water use, those who depend on it, water governance, balance, quality and more. They need to know where it discharges and where wastewater goes. This is the foundation for a better understanding of water challenges and making a sustainable plan of action that is consistently evaluated and possible to communicate.

Water costs money, so using less water can be a quick way to decrease operational costs. Greater efficiency can be achieved by identifying ways to produce more goods with less water, lose less, safely recycle and use treated wastewater, or by developing or using new technologies, for example improved irrigation practices or water stress resistant crops for cultivation.

Companies in major sectors including food, textile, energy, manufacturing, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and mining need to safeguard the world’s freshwater resources, and the health of our ocean. Private companies need to manage chemical inputs responsibly, treat and reuse wastewater. As pollution reduction can be costly requiring the construction of new wastewater treatment facilities, companies can also opt for less toxic production materials.

Sufficient access to drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services at the workplace and at home for workers means reduced illness due to water-borne diseases, increased work attendance, and better productivity. Good corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts through sustainable water management also leads to increased employee engagement.

Adequate investments in water resources and services can help improve the well-being of people and the resilience of ecosystems and economies. Businesses should explore new ways to mobilize resources to finance innovative mechanisms and approaches for water and food security.

Food loss and waste means water waste. This must be minimized across the system by reducing supply chain inefficiencies, adopting a circular bioeconomy approach and increasing producer and consumer awareness. Companies need to improve storage and supply chain infrastructure (especially cold chain), improve date labeling and portion size data, and drive consumer behaviour change.

Agricultural businesses need to invest in salt-resistant crops as sources of food to help mitigate the negative impact of salinity on agricultural production. Many lakes and wetlands in arid regions are naturally salty, however, water scarcity caused by climate change is raising salinity, creating problems for ecosystems, lake fisheries, and the cultivation of crops.

Businesses need to promote the use of non-conventional water harvesting techniques such as fog harvesting, or traditional methods such as rainwater harvesting, for water-scarce countries. Water harvesting is the collection of runoffs for productive purposes. Instead of runoff being left to cause erosion, it is harvested and utilized. Water-scarce countries will have to rely more on the use of safe non-conventional water resources to partly alleviate water scarcity.

Private companies need to undertake investment and technological innovation to improve water infrastructure and halt the degradation of aquatic food systems. They need to invest in science, innovation and technology to identify how the management of water and soil can be more efficient and sustainable, while sharing technologies in different socio-economic contexts to drive economic growth and build resilience.

Aquatic foods offer highly accessible and affordable sources of animal proteins and micronutrients, playing a vital role in the food and nutrition security of many, particularly vulnerable coastal populations. Companies involved in aquatic food systems need to safeguard our waters, avoiding pollution and unsustainable practices.

Water quality impacts food quality, and it needs to be managed throughout the supply chain, from production to consumption. Companies need to prioritize surveillance of pathogens from water to food and limit the use of antimicrobial drugs in agriculture, which eventually make their way into the food chain making consumers resistant to antimicrobials when countering diseases. Similarly, manufacturers, including in the fashion industry need to consider eliminating microplastic and microfiber release at the design and manufacturing stages.

Good water stewards actively engage with companies who share the same water challenges to better address the root causes of water stress and water risk and advance sustainable water management. Partnering with companies and stakeholders brings many advantages including increased capacity, access to new networks, skills, technologies, data and information, a greater ability to leverage financial resources, and new perspectives for solving problems.