Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Emerging Tool of Water Footprinting for Agricultural by Dr Anthony Hume byPerformance

Agricultural activity is estimated to constitute on average 80% of the freshwater consumption associated with food products. Freshwater consumption in the growth of food products is fast emerging as a major issue for global retailers, including Walmart, Marks and Spencer, and businesses such as Unilever in a similar fashion to carbon footprinting.

Unlike carbon, the environmental impacts of water consumption differ greatly with geography and time. Many freshwater-related issues are local and freshwater has a strong social and cultural dimension. For example, many people believe in a “human right to water”. Plentiful water supplies are clearly desirable, beneficial and necessary.

In New Zealand, reforms have been proposed to legislation and a collaborative process involving business, regulators and non-governmental organizations (the Land and Water Forum) to develop new approaches to water management. Various initiatives are underway globally such as the water disclosure project to highlight business related risks to water scarcity, completion and quality. In the global business community it is beginning to dawn on companies that freshwater supplies could dry up and there is a pressing need to understand the risks, not only within their own operations, but up and down their supply chains.

Hence the growing interest in comprehensive ‘water footprinting’. The water footprints are intended to improve consumer understanding of the environmental impact of freshwater consumption by products and potentially heighten awareness of options for reducing freshwater consumption within global supply chains.

Green kiwifruit water footprinting
New Zealand’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) and Zespri International commissioned Landcare Research to assess the water footprint of green kiwifruit supplied to the U.K. — the environmental impact of freshwater used, directly and indirectly, throughout all stages from growing the fruit through to the fruit reaching the consumer.

The recently completed project, a partnership with Plant & Food Research and AgriLink, was the first-ever comprehensive water footprinting exercise to be carried out in the New Zealand horticulture sector. The study examined environmental impacts of freshwater used in eight major kiwifruit growing regions.

The research was designed to look for cost-effective methods to promote water conservation, preserve important resources, and enable our industrial partners to communicate important improvements in performance to their customers. The project reflects Zespri’s commitment to support positive positioning with key global retailers, who are increasingly paying attention to the water footprints of suppliers.

The research evaluated two emerging approaches – the Water Footprinting Network (WFN) and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) – and also investigated a third hydrological-based perspective. Used in tandem, these different approaches provide deeper insight into the direct and indirect freshwater consumption by a product.

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