As part of the 2025 strategy of Sustainability Initiative Fruit & Vegetables (SIFAV), the SIFAV partners have agreed to implement Good Water Management standards in sourcing regions with high water risk. SIFAV has now developed a policy including a basket of approved standards and a list of high water risk regions. With this policy finalized, the SIFAV Partners set out to work with their fresh produce suppliers to adopt a fitting SIFAV-approved standard. The objective: by 2025, at least 70% of the SIFAV Partner’s volume originating from high water risk regions should come from verified farms.
SIFAV approach on water
Water is a topic of growing concern around the world. The rising demand for water by communities, industry, and agriculture, in combination with the already felt impact of climate change, increasingly creates water challenges in many regions. This not only puts people and businesses at risk, but also the natural ecosystems that rely on the same water sources.
Global procurement of fruit and vegetables has an impact on the local water use in the water catchment areas from which this fresh produce is sourced. SIFAV therefore regards water as a priority topic that needs to be acted on to realize its ambition of a more sustainable fresh produce sector.
SIFAV has adopted a two-fold actionable approach in its 2025 agenda that is based on the broadly supported concept of water stewardship and is tailored to the position of the SIFAV partners as global fresh produce buyers for the European consumer market:
- In all sourcing regions with high water risk: contribute to optimizing on-farm water management by working with suppliers to implement Good Water Management Standards – to at least 70% of sourced volume by 2025; this is a typical first step of a credible water stewardship response.
- In three priority sourcing areas: engage more deeply and collaboratively with the aim to positively contribute to resilience and sustainability at catchment level. This deeper involvement will provide valuable insights for SIFAV and its partners about the effectiveness of different approaches that can be scaled up across sourcing areas around the globe.
“Many farmers have already taken good steps in the field of responsible water management, including doing water audits, installing more efficient irrigation systems, capturing rainwater, and treating wastewater”, shares Coen van Iwaarden, Sr. Advisor Sustainable Business at Nature’s Pride. “However, these individual actions are not enough to curb the increasing water stress in many important sourcing areas around the globe. Therefore, it’s a great step that together with all SIFAV partners we have agreed on this collective approach to address water risks in our fresh produce supply chains.”
Optimizing on-farm water management with benchmarked standards
To support the SIFAV partners and their suppliers, a Basket of approved Water Standards was developed: SIFAV requested Good Stuff International (GSI), an expert consultancy firm on water sustainability, to develop a benchmark framework, to compare relevant standards against that benchmark and to provide guidance on the standard selection process.
Through benchmarking, SIFAV aims to promote transparency and comparability, drive harmonization and support the alignment of market requirements based on best practice. The different standards that meet the benchmark are accepted in the approved ‘basket of standards’. Providing choice through this “basket of standards” approach helps to increase efficiency, reduce audit duplications and costs for producers and offers a flexible pathway towards stronger performance. The standards within the basket vary in their depth and focus of coverage of water issues, which enables farmers to select a standard that adequately matches their capacity and that best addresses the specific situation and challenges in their farm and catchment, such as water quantity, quality, or eco-system preservation. The joint adoption of this basket of water standards is a credible starting point to move towards a shared destination of improving shard water challenges in high water risk regions.
“As a chain player that sources its fresh produce worldwide and works with suppliers who take their responsibility, we can make a difference. By working together, engaging in dialogue and being transparent, we try to maximize the protection of the environment”, explains André Boer, Lead Fresh Produce Buyer at Superunie. “Water management is a very important topic. A water audit is an accessible way for our suppliers to work on water. Good water management standards are supported and ensured by requiring independent third-party verification.” Checklists provide guidance on topics, help raise awareness and verify that water use is legal and is managed through good practices.
Basket of Good Water Management Standards
Based on the developed benchmarking methodology and the agreed threshold, the following options are included in the SIFAV Basket of Water Standards:
- Alliance for Water Stewardship Standard V 2.0
- Fairtrade Standard (Small-scale Producer Organizations)
- GlobalGA.P. + On the Way to Planet Proof
- GlobalGA.P. + SAI Farm Sustainably Assessment (FSA) Add-on
- GlobalGA.P. + SIZA Add-on
- GlobalGA.P. + SPRING Add-on
- Rainforest Alliance Agriculture Standard 2020
- SIZA Environmental Standard
- Sustainably Grown
Next step: collective action in three priority water catchments
Building on common ground established through this basket of standards, SIFAV has already initiated next steps and is in the process of selecting three priority water catchments in Spain, Peru, and South Africa. The SIFAV partners aim to work with the producers in these catchments on measuring and optimizing their water use efficiency, to gain insight into the catchment risks and opportunities, and ultimately to explore how to contribute to the resilience and sustainability of the catchment area – in other words, move towards the end destination of water security.
To determine the SIFAV Basket of Water Standards, a water standards benchmarking framework was developed, by taking the assessment framework of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and EDEKA from 2017  as the main reference and by updating it to include findings from recent studies and experiences and to align with the outcomes in the 2.0 standard of the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) . In the benchmarking process, the various standards were assessed on the inclusion of critical criteria on legal compliance and on-farm monitoring of water quantity and quality and consecutively scored (1-5) on their inclusion of four key areas for water and agriculture: catchment, ecosystems, stakeholders, water sanitation and hygiene (WASH).
The SIFAV partners agreed to drive the adoption of the approved Good Water Management Standards in regions that are considered high water risk. This risk rating is based on 2020 provincial-level data from the WWF Water Risk Filter . The overall risk score of the central location of each region (sub-national level) is determined and all regions are included in the risk-list with a score of 3.0 and higher (high risk and very high risk). The overall risk score is based on WWF’s default weighting framework that takes physical risk (quantity and quality), regulatory risk, and reputational risk into account.
The Basket of Water Standards, the benchmarking methodology and the list of high water risk regions will be reviewed annually.
The risk list can be downloaded from https://www.idhsustainabletrade.com/publication/sifav-list-of-high-water-risk-regions/
For more information on the WWF Water Risk Filter, see: https://waterriskfilter.org