Opinion: The future of water - Nurturing a water-wise world
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The future of water: Nurturing a water-wise world

The future of water: Nurturing a water-wise world

As we mark World Water Week, the theme of this year, ‘Seeds of Change: Innovative Solutions for a Water-Wise World’ is a stark reminder of the urgent need to address this crisis

The future of water _ World Water Week GettyImages

Imagine a world where nearly two-thirds of the population experience severe water scarcity for at least one month each year.

This is not a dystopian future; it’s our reality today. By 2025, half of the world’s population could be living in areas facing water scarcity, and by 2030, intense water scarcity could displace some 700 million people.

As we mark World Water Week, the theme of this year, Seeds of Change: Innovative Solutions for a Water-Wise World is a stark reminder of the urgent need to address this crisis. The focus is on how we manage water as a resource – the ideas, innovations, and governance systems that we need in a water-scarce world.

The food and beverage (F&B) industry, which relies heavily on water for production and agricultural supply chains, is particularly vulnerable to water scarcity.

Sustainable agriculture: A necessity, not a choice

In an era where our planet’s resources are stretched thin, transitioning to sustainable agriculture is not just an option; it’s a necessity. In the MENA region, whose geographic landscape is characterised by scarce arable land and limited water supply, the solutions must not only increase agricultural productivity but also ensure the long-term sustainability of the region’s water resources.

The transition to sustainable agriculture is a complex process that requires the commitment and collaboration of all stakeholders, from farmers and consumers to policymakers and the private sector.

It’s a journey that we must embark on together if we are to ensure a sustainable and water-secure future for all.

Fostering innovation: The role of startups

Innovation is key in the transition to sustainable agriculture and addressing water scarcity at large. Startups, with their agility and innovative mindset, are well-positioned to drive long-term positive impact. They are developing transformative solutions in areas such as minimising water use, managing efficiencies across inputs and production processes, and digitising agricultural processes for sustainable reporting.

Take, for instance, Dooda Solutions, a women-led earthworm farm based in Lebanon that uses advanced technologies to produce a range of premium grade vermicompost products at a commercial scale. Their innovative approach not only conserves water but also contributes to the overall efficiency and sustainability of the agricultural sector.

Noor Nation, a renewable energy startup based in Egypt, is another example. They aim to provide tech-enabled decentralised energy and water infrastructure solutions to the off-grid sector across Egypt and Sub-Saharan Africa. Their product, LifeBox, is a solar-powered, self-contained mobile unit that delivers clean energy and safe water to rural communities, farming, and tourism businesses at a reasonable price. This innovation is a game-changer in regions where access to clean water and energy is a challenge.

These startups are proof that innovation is an incredibly important part of the puzzle when it comes to solving sustainability challenges. We’ve recently funded these and many other start-ups to scale sustainable agriculture innovations as part of our Greenhouse Accelerator Program. They are proof that with the right resources, capital, and network, startups can play a significant role in creating a water-wise world.

Advancing regenerative agriculture

Across the globe, farmers continue to bear the brunt of climate-related risks associated with agriculture and acutely experience the impacts of biodiversity loss, freshwater scarcity, and soil degradation. Many of these farmers’ families have worked tirelessly to maintain their businesses for multiple generations, and these impacts pose a threat to their livelihoods.

 Farming is hyper-local, with each farm having unique needs and challenges, and successful regenerative practices must balance newer regenerative practices with current farming practices that have been adapted for the local context. The approach to sustainable agriculture must be outcome-oriented rather than prescriptive.

This requires collaboration between farmers and other stakeholders in a given region — often across multiple crops, sectors and land uses — who commit to advancing shared sustainability goals.

From a private sector perspective, particularly in the F&B sector, the key is to think about where we can have the most impact when it comes to conserving water in the context of advancing sustainable agriculture. For example, can we play a role in helping farmers transition to more water-efficient irrigation equipment? Can we make training for regenerative agriculture more accessible? Can we replenish more water than we use? Can we foster partnerships that improve the livelihoods of farming communities? The buck stops with us.

Developing a water strategy

Addressing water scarcity requires a comprehensive strategy that goes beyond conservation. It involves improving water-use efficiency, replenishing water in the ecosystems where it’s used, and increasing safe water access for communities. This requires a multi-faceted approach.

The private sector, particularly the F&B industry must invest in improving water-use efficiency across its value chain – on farms and in manufacturing facilities. We must also invest in improving the health of the local watersheds that are most at risk where we operate; and of course, find ways to reach communities that face water insecurity and assure them this basic human right.

The best place to start is to support the principles of circular water – reduce freshwater footprint, identify reuse opportunities within operations and invest in new technology that can make manufacturing more efficient. Companies can also look to restore aquatic ecosystems through wetland protection, restore land through regenerative agriculture, and mitigate water insecurity by advocating for improved water governance.

Using some of these principles has helped us make significant progress on water conservation across Africa, Middle East, and South Asia. We’ve been able to replenish 75 per cent of the water used across high-risk watersheds through community partnership programmes.

 A collective call to action

An effective strategy is not a task for the few; it is a collective call to action. It demands stakeholders from all sectors to unite, share knowledge, pool resources, and exchange best practices. It’s about fostering partnerships that transcend boundaries, supporting farmers who are the stewards of our land, investing in innovation that can redefine our relationship with water, and developing effective water strategies that ensure its sustainable use.

As we commemorate this key week, let’s not just remember that every drop counts, let’s work to create a water-wise world. Because our future, quite literally, depends on it.

The writer is the CEO Africa, Middle East & South Asia at PepsiCo

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