The concept of Water Stewardship is about taking care of the water resource as something that we do not own, but something we all need, so it involves both site- and catchment-based actions through a stakeholder-inclusive process. This concept was created by the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), a global membership collaboration comprising businesses, NGOs and the public sector. In 2014, AWS released the first universal framework that drives, recognizes and rewards good water stewardship performance; the AWS Standard. But this post is not about detailing the standard and its theory. It is about practical understanding on how this framework looks like when it is implemented in a real case.
The Iberesparragal case study
“Iberesparragal" is a citrus farm in the province of Seville, Spain, which belongs to the fruit distribution company Iberhanse-Naturgreen. Its CEO, Luis Bolaños, was worried about the ever-growing challenges facing agriculture in the Guadalquivir basin, where the farm is located. Luis recognised that changes were needed within and beyond his farm, through improving irrigation, protecting biodiversity and working with others to ensure sufficient water quality and quantity in the catchment.
The EDEKA/WWF Zitrus project and the AWS standard
Luis’s vision attracted the attention of their main client, EDEKA, the leading supermarket chain in Germany. EDEKA was already working with WWF through a partnership to encourage good agricultural practices and environmental protection. As a result, EDEKA, WWF and Iberhanse-Naturgreen agreed to work together on the ‘Zitrus Project’ implementing activities related to biodiversity protection, toxic load reduction, improved water use and working to implement activities to create benefits throughout the wider catchment. As the Zitrus Project progressed, certification against the AWS Standard (www.a4ws.org) presented an opportunity to receive third party certification against a globally recognised standard and support stakeholder engagement, and identify actions which could be undertaken, in adherence with AWS four outcomes:
This was the first agricultural implementation of the AWS Standard in Europe, so it presented a challenge to the farm. However, AWS, EDEKA, WWF and local support throughout the whole process from Good Stuff International helped the implementation process.
One of the first actions was to improve the understanding of their particular catchment and associated water risks, like forecasted impacts of climate change, water stress, water quality as well as regulatory and reputational risks. They were also encouraged to understand the role of other catchment stakeholders, the impact their activity had on other activities and vice versa, and identify opportunities to engage and take action to protect water resources through a collaborative way of working with others locally. Luis and his team highlighted an improved understanding of the catchment, risks and local stakeholders as one of the main benefits of applying the AWS Standard.
“We had little idea about the catchment we are located in, its water balance, quality, stakeholders and the impact to and from our activity in the farm. The Zitrus Project and AWS implementation provided us a valuable knowledge and understanding on the catchment context we didn’t have before”
Miguel Hidalgo, Operations Manager at Iberesparragal
Developing & implementing a Water Stewardship Plan
Based on the risks and challenges found, a planning process was carried out jointly with project partners, outlining targets, measures to be taken and monitoring ways to track performance against the targets (for example, the Geographic Agricultural Water Footprint Calculator - GAWFC, satellite images, fertilization records, or monthly catchment/site water balance).
The implementation of the plan served to evidence an actual water withdrawal reduction of more than 15% (with an initial target of 8% in line with climate change forecasts in the Guadalquivir basin) thanks to the ongoing Zitrus Project actions on improved irrigation and new ones, ensuring that saved water remained in the catchment and thus improving the site and catchment water balance and supporting the ecosystems. Records on pesticide use reduction through biological pests control, efficient agri-chemicals use and water analyses served to evidence a good water quality in the catchment. In addition with biodiversity identification and monitoring, environmental flow studies, and mapping of important natural spaces, it was possible to mantain water-related important areas in a healthy status.
Finally, the system guarantees legal compliance in the future, and adaptability to future changes in regulations, and governance was improved thanks to key stakeholder identification and engagement process. The best example is the multi-stakeholder meeting held with project partners, other farmers, River Basin authority, public administrations and other water users in the catchment. This served to share the experience in order to highlight the benefits of a water stewardship approach and make the case for stronger action in the catchment. You can find more details on the outcomes of this case in the Iberesparragal case study brochure here.
Outcomes and Benefits to the Business
The main benefits of implementing AWS for Iberesparragal are:
- Commercial relationships are strengthened.
- The business has reduced its costs through improvements in water infrastructure and management knowledge.
- Farmers have a much richer knowledge of the catchment, its hydrological dynamics. This enables them to be better prepared for droughts and climate change, gaining resilience in their business.
- New tools and methodologies have been developed and are being implemented, equipping and empowering the farmer.
- Efforts are being made to identify and engage other water users in search of better catchment water management, sharing knowledge, communicating actions and seeking coordination.
- By communicating with the public administrations, the business is helping to promote good water governance.
- As the first farm in Europe to implement the AWS Standard, they are building their reputation and carrying out activities with other farmers in the Zitrus Project, who are now similarly committed to water stewardship based on Iberesparragal’s experience.
Iberesparragal was the first site in Europe to achieve AWS certification. But above all, this experience served as a way to change the farmers' mindset, help them contextualize on-site actions and look beyond the farm fences, understand the water context and set the ground for collective and efficient catchment-level action.
An important learning was that measures taken before implementation can be incorporated into the AWS process, integrating existing and new actions and relating them to the catchment reality. No matter if the goal is certification or not, as this framework supports and guides water users to become good water stewards.
A set of lessons and solutions was generated from this experience, which can now be found in GSI's lessons and solutions section.