Cargill makes water restoration commitment

Company plans to implement Water Stewardship program at 81 priority facilities.

July 24, 2020

5 Min Read
Cargill makes water restoration commitment

In an effort to develop and accelerate agriculture solutions that protect and enhance water resources, Cargill has set new global water targets to achieve sustainable water management in its operations and all priority watersheds by 2030.

To achieve its water targets and improve access to clean water, Cargill said it will:

  • Restore 600 billion liters of water in priority watersheds;

  • Reduce 5 million kg of water pollutants in priority watersheds;

  • Improve access to safe drinking water in 25 priority watersheds, and

  • Implement its Water Stewardship program at 81 priority facilities.

“The world relies on access to clean water, for health, nutrition and economic prosperity,” Cargill chairman and chief executive officer Dave MacLennan said. “We must find ways to improve water quality and availability in the communities where we live and work while also advancing the sustainability and efficiencies of our supply chains. We are focusing on the specific challenges faced by local communities and watersheds to accelerate our positive impact.”

While agriculture feeds the world, it is also a major contributor to global water challenges and greenhouse gas emissions, Cargill said. With approximately 70% of the world’s freshwater supply being used for agriculture, the company knows how critical it is to protect and enhance its water use. Enhancing soil health has many interrelated benefits, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving water quality, increasing drought resilience, enhancing farmer prosperity and helping feed a growing global population. 

Working in partnership with The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural & Environmental Sciences (CFAES), Cargill will collaborate with Ohio State Water Quality Extension associates to engage farmers in implementing regenerative agriculture practices focused on soil health and nutrient management. Cargill will also support the formation of a Water Quality Research Consortium to promote applied interdisciplinary on farm research across the state, parts of which have been affected by harmful algal blooms. Through this new partnership, Cargill will help connect farmers in northwest Ohio to funding resources such as H2Ohio, the state’s water quality plan, for conservation practices, and provide access to cutting-edge nutrient application and remote-sensing equipment and technology. By adopting these practices, farmers will improve not only the productivity of their operations and the health of their soil but also water quality through reduced nutrient loss and by reducing the algal blooms that harm Lake Erie and inland drinking water sources.

In Mexico, Cargill has been working with Bimbo and the International Maize & Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) for more than three years to implement programs that enable corn farmers to adopt sustainable agriculture practices such as soil conditioning, fertilizer and nutrient management and improved irrigation. Efforts are focused in Hidalgo and Jalisco, located in the central part of Mexico. The programs have provided water savings of more than 1 billion liters since they began in 2018.

Cargill has also joined forces with the Iowa Soybean Assn. and Quantified Ventures to launch a collaborative, market-based program to improve soil health, carbon storage and water quality on nearly 9,500 acres in Iowa. This year, the fund will achieve an estimated 170,000 lb. of nitrogen reductions and 14,250 lb. of phosphorus reductions in water. The program aims to scale this up to 100,000 acres next year and will also look for ways to bring this type of program to other parts of the world.

Providing access to clean drinking water

Access to clean water is fundamental for communities to thrive. Cargill works with partners around the world to improve access to clean drinking water and sanitation. In Indonesia, Cargill is collaborating with CARE on the Promoting a Sustainable & Food Secure World project, which is implementing better sanitation facilities in schools and teaching students, teachers and communities healthy hygiene practices and providing nutrition education. In its first phase, the program has reached more than 75,000 people and improved sanitation facilities at 28 schools.

Advancing water stewardship at Cargill facilities

In addition to prioritizing water in its supply chain and communities, Cargill is working to advance sustainable water management in its operations. The company will implement a Water Stewardship program, which is a set of best practices and goals aligned to the Alliance for Water Stewardship standard, at 81 priority facilities by 2025.

Driving industry-wide change

As a member of the Water Resilience Coalition, an industry-driven, CEO-led initiative, Cargill is committed to working with other companies, governments and communities to reduce global water stress by 2050. Working together across the entire water value chain, the coalition will preserve the world’s freshwater resources through collective action and ambitious, quantifiable commitments to create a water resilient future.

“Agriculture is how we’ll get this done,” MacLennan said. “When we invest in regenerative agriculture programs that enhance soil health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we also improve water quality, increase drought resilience and improve access to clean water. By working across the industry and sharing best practices, we can protect the world’s freshwater resources and help create a resilient, equitable economy with enough clean water for all.”

Setting science-based targets

Cargill said its targets are science based and were developed in close partnership with the World Resources Institute (WRI).

“Cargill’s targets represent the next generation of water targets. While for years companies have set targets that try to address global water issues, the local nature of shared water challenges has meant targets aren’t necessarily meaningful in the areas in which companies operate or from where they source. But Cargill’s latest ambition sets targets specific to the catchment context and severity of the local water challenges,” said Sara Walker, WRI senior manager of Water Quality & Agriculture. “WRI applauds this leading approach and believes it will help pave the way for other companies across the world to adopt -- and act upon -- their own contextual water targets so that we can collectively move the needle on more sustainable water use.”

Cargill believes that agriculture is how the global food system can become more sustainable. In addition to its global water targets, Cargill’s sustainability efforts focus on land use, climate, farmer prosperity and food security.

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