A study that provides important new insights and reinforces existing knowledge

In 2012, jointly with WWF International, Chiquita developed a detailed Water Risk and Footprint Assessment of its main agricultural operations and activities, including Banana production in the Latin American Tropics

  • There is a growing consensus within governments, businesses and the NGO community that freshwater scarcity and quality issues will dramatically increase in many parts of the world over the next 20 years
  • According to WWF, protecting and restoring the world’s freshwater ecosystems to sustain the many social, cultural and economic benefits they provide may be one of the greatest challenges humanity faces in the 21st century
  • Water consumption is rising due to population increases and improved living standards, whereas in many regions rainfall is becoming less reliable and freshwater sources such as glaciers and underground reserves are being depleted
  • Farmers and urban populations are increasingly competing for the same freshwater sources
  • Where water has been free or cheap in the past, this is changing:
    • Energy cost of pumping is increasing
    • More water users are bidding for the same water
    • Water pricing will be promoted and enforced in many places where it is currently a free resource
    • Government regulations of water use are becoming more stringent or are being established and enforced
    • Across the globe, water shortages or pollution have led to severe disruption of business operations and/or damaged the reputation and profitability of companies
    • Increasingly, companies are finding that although good practices of water efficiency and quality are important, collaboration with other local stakeholders is essential to address local water issues.

Bananas

In the case of bananas, the study concluded:

  • Chiquita’s longstanding partnership with the Rainforest Alliance has helped the company to better understand water issues in banana farming
  • The water footprint (water consumed per kilogram of bananas produced) ranges from 400 to 600 liters
  • The crop in the field consumes over 90 percent (up to 99 percent) of this water footprint. In some regions with irregular or seasonal rainfall, irrigation is necessary; in others, rainfall provides adequate moisture
  • The balance (process water footprint) is consumed in the packing station during the washing and packing process. The process water footprint can be reduced to less than two liters per kilogram by water recirculation and other measures
  • Water is relatively abundant in the regions where Chiquita produces bananas, however increasing irregularity and intensity of rainfall and droughts caused by climate change have already led to an increased need for irrigation, and potential cost increase

Chiquita has taken several measures to reduce its water footprint at the farms and packing stations, as well as measures to reduce pollutant loadings to receiving waters:

  • Monitoring and management of irrigation cycles
  • Recirculation of water in 14 packing stations
  • Lower depth of cleaning tanks in certain packing stations
  • Regular monitoring of water discharges and water quality (as part of the Rainforest Alliance certification), including microbiological and pesticide residue analysis to ensure that discharge water is free of contamination
  • Micro-irrigation in some locations
  • Heavy mulching, cover crops and buffer zones to reduce water run-off

Challenges and opportunities

  • Cost savings in operations (efficiency optimization)
  • Mitigation of water-related operational risks
  • Overarching water strategy and water management policy
  • Sharing of best practice internally and with banana suppliers
  • Increased cooperation with other parties to deal with the water risk threa
  • On water stewardship, there is already much activity in Latin America, with a well-established trend in water funds and community engagement. There are good opportunities for working collaboratively in the region with other water users, local government, NGOs and communities. In addition, there is strong interest by banks, regional bodies and financial institutions in increased private sector participation in addressing water issues.

Links

Study: Water Footprint Assessment Banana and Lettuce Products Produced by Chiquita (2012)