Optimising water use is one of the greatest contributions Olam can make to global food security and health. Changing climatic conditions and rapid alterations in land and water use in many regions, driven by intensifying demand from population growth, dietary changes and economic growth, have increased the threat to the supply, quality and reliability of water for people across the world. Today, at least 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with faeces and by 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas (WHO).
Agriculture is the largest draw on water, consuming 70 percent of all freshwater resources (WWF). So for large agri-businesses such as Olam, water security is also a business imperative. Fortunately, agriculture and the food supply chain also has the greatest potential to make meaningful adjustments in water management practices.
As a resource, water is incredibly challenging to measure, monitor or mediate. By the very nature of its sources of supply, water cannot be neatly ring-fenced along administrative or geographical boundaries and everyone is vested in it – with interconnected and often competing interests.
In 2013 we made a public commitment to reduce consumption in our direct operations. In 2017, we achieved a 17% improvement in ‘total value chain water intensity’ for our own operations. In addition, under the Olam Livelihood Charter, as well as other initiatives, we are focused on supporting third party farmer suppliers to reduce their water impacts.
In 2016, we mapped our exposure to water stress. Using the World Resources Institute Aqueduct risk mapping tool, we screened Olam Livelihood Charter programmes, our upstream farming and plantations operations and our secondary processing facilities which help us to understand where additional focus is required. Globally we are implementing the Alliance for Water Stewardship Standard – our Aviv coffee plantation in Tanzania was the first agri-business globally and first business in Africa to achieve the AWS standard.
Although many smallholder crops are naturally rain fed such as cocoa and cotton, others such as rice and sugar are renowned for water consumption either because they are thirsty or because water is used liberally in production methods. And with weather impacts bringing much drier weather in certain areas, the rain fed crops require extra moisture.
Precision irrigation through cutting edge technology helps us to minimise water use across our own operations. In our almond orchards in the USA and Australia, technology helps us monitor plant health and needs in real-time, enabling optimum irrigation efficiency. This technology has helped to reduce water use by up to 10% while maximising growth rate and maintaining non-stress conditions for the tree.
The sensor hardware installed in the field with data analysis and algorithms predicts exact irrigation requirements across the farm, up to 5 days in advance. Instead of having to wait to see water stress impacting the tree, we can irrigate at the first sign of stress, thus protecting the tree and improving water efficiency.
Olam’s Environment Standard on Water Management requires an effective programme to enable all operations to systematically identify all sources of water use, to implement conservation programmes to reduce water intensity, to monitor and record all water use and to develop targets and a site water use master plan.
The standard applies to all workplaces where Olam manufactures and distributes midstream and downstream products, our majority owned subsidiaries and those facilities where Olam maintains management control. For example:
• The Gilroy, Firebaugh, Lemoore and Williams sites in the USA have set up recirculation loops, replacement of high flow hoses and installed float switches
• Specific actions taken by the Lemoore tomato team include conversion of the seal and cooling water from a single pass operation to a closed loop recirculation system.