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Teaming up with M&S to reduce water risks


As you look out over Ceres – one of the key agricultural hubs of South Africa’s Western Cape – you’d be forgiven for thinking there wasn’t much of a water problem. On the day we were filming, heavy rain fell from huge grey clouds and when the sun did come out, the landscape glistened with dams in between lines of fruit trees. However, like many environmental issues – if you dig deeper – a different picture emerges.

Birdseye view of a river project in South Africa

In 2012, Marks & Spencer and WWF began to look at future ‘water risk hot spots’ in M&S’s fresh produce supply chain. Using our Water Risk Filter – which draws on global data sets for water scarcity, pollution and climate change predictions –  among others – we identified a number of water risks in the Western Cape, where M&S source nectarines, peaches, apricots and cherries during the UK winter.

Keen to address this in a sustainable way, ourselves and M&S joined forces with South African retailer Woolworths, the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), a group of their farmers to kick start a project that aims to mitigate these risks through good water stewardship.

Specifically, the project focuses on implementing the AWS standard, which helps farmers to better manage the water on their farms and encourages them to engage with other business and local communities to ensure the river is governed sustainably. A well-managed, resilient river is vital for everyone in the region: communities, farmers, retailers, and of course for the fish and other wildlife it supports. We are later taking the lessons of this small group of farmers to publish guidelines to help others in the Western Cape become good water stewards.

Although the project is still in its infancy, we are already learning a great deal about some of the challenges, opportunities and diversity of perspectives. One farmer talked about his concerns for the future of water in the region, while his neighbour wasn’t losing sleep over it. (The second farmer has a large dam on his farm.) So it’s clear that there is a need to build a stronger understanding of the area’s future water risks, and how those risks are shared by all. Take a look at our film which tells you more about the project.

Both M&S and Woolworths have a long history of sourcing produce from the Western Cape. They have worked closely with growers in the area, and they want to continue to do so for many years to come. By working with farmers in this way, they are not only building real resilience into their supply chain, but they are helping protect shared water resources for future generations.

Find out more about Water Stewardship and how your business can get involved.

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