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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Water mismanagement and the private sector’s role in finding sustainable solutions

Water management is hugely inefficient due to poor policies and archaic agricultural practices where redundant farming techniques and crop combinations result in massive water wastage. The harsh reality is that even though there is no shortage of water, we are losing the ability to effectively use it.

Pakistan is no stranger to water issues. The common man would believe the issues are a result of lack of water, but in reality, it’s a case of water mismanagement more than availability. Water mismanagement has always been a challenge, especially for developing countries like Pakistan. It is perhaps the most understated global security risk the world faces today. Without water, there is no life, and this issue is leading to an urgent, existential issue.

Water’s management remains inefficient largely due to poor policies archaic agricultural practices where poor farming techniques and crop combinations result in massive water wastage. Therefore, despite the size of the oceans remaining unchanged and rain remaining frequent, millions are losing access to usable water. The harsh reality is, water continues to surround us, but we are losing the ability to effectively use it.

Globally, ineffective agricultural practices level have aggravated the mismanagement of water. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), over 70% of all water withdrawal is attributed to agriculture, and this waste is even higher (95%) in developing nations.

Read more: Clean Gilgit & Hunza Project: Nestlé Pakistan installs benches & waste bins made from 100% recycled plastic…

The Pakistani agriculture industry’s impact has been in line with these statistics, with its consumption of more than 90% of the nation’s freshwater and wastage of 40-50% of it within the irrigation process. Water is a shared resource and that begets that any issues related to water are also addressed collectively. Though statistically industries consume very little percentage of water (when compared to agriculture), companies whose raw materials come from agriculture need to play their part in reducing water wastage.

Nestlé Pakistan is one company that is doing exactly that. They have been working on water efficiency for years. The company’s efforts were concerted under its Caring for Water-Pakistan (C4W) program in 2017. The program focuses on three major areas: agriculture, factories and communities. In 2021, the company followed up on its commitment to replenish water with a Water Pledge, in which the company committed to regenerate the water used by its waters business, and have a net positive impact by 2025.

Within the agriculture sector, Nestlé has partnered with key stakeholders – farmers, the federal and Punjab governments, LUMS and others – to install drip irrigation mechanisms on 198 acres of farmland, as well as Smart Soil Moisture Sensors on 455 acres..

Read more: Nestlé Pakistan wins 1st prize at Living the Global Compact Best Practice Sustainability Awards 2021

Drip irrigation, an alternate to conventional flood irrigation, allows farmers to target plantation and directly relay water to specific locations. Furthermore, Smart Soil Moisture Sensors, which send moisture content reports to a digital cloud, enable operators to know exactly which locations require more water, thus saving on any water that may contribute to over-irrigation otherwise.

Such innovative solutions ensure that the most wasteful sections of industry are accurately identified, and then efficiently supported to remedy water wastage. Not only will initiatives like these facilitate a long-term macro-level solution to the impeding water issues, but they are also extremely beneficial for small-scale farmers who are able to utilize advanced technology.

Nestlé’s subsidization and support have enabled farmers like Mr. Moazzam who owns and operates Al-Rehan Dairy Farms near Kashmir, convert 9.72 acres of farm to become eco-friendly. He now has a system solar panel installed for energy, uses, drip irrigation, and Smart Soil Moisture Sensors. “I would encourage more farmers to opt for advanced technology. Not only does it conserve our resources, but also helps slash operational costs tremendously,” he explained.

Besides encouraging more effective agricultural practices, Nestlé has other streams under its C4W-Pakistan initiative that have a more holistic approach. One of these, is the factories agenda. Nestlé Pakistan became the first company in Pakistan to have all of its sites receive the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) certification to ensure responsible consumption of water.

This is further supplemented by their community initiatives. These include six Clean and Safe Drinking Water Facilities providing free access to clean and safe water to more than 60,000 people every day to vulnerable communities whilst also providing mass education regarding sustainable water use on an individual level.

Read more: Nestlé helps apple growers in Gilgit Baltistan use sustainable and innovative apple growing practices

Other players have also stepped up to this challenge and adopted similar initiatives to those of Nestlé Pakistan’s. The agriculture sector is intrinsically related to the textile sector, which is one of the largest manufacturing industries in the country, as it relies on crops such as cotton and flex. The industry is also heavily reliant on water. Leading manufacturers such as Artistic Fabric Mills, Sapphire Group and US Apparel & Textiles Pvt Ltd have opted to source their raw materials from Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), the largest cotton sustainability program in the world. Among other things, BCI trains farmers on using efficient irrigation practices to optimize water productivity using drip irrigation.

US Apparel is also certified by the AWS, with other leading manufacturers in process of getting the certification. While the mismanagement of water is concerning, the stepping up of the private sector has indeed created a growing safety net too. There is hope that consistent technological advancements will enable Pakistan to become an efficient user of its watershed and avoid destruction, followed by water loss.

With examples like Nestlé and US Apparel there remains a trickle of hope in this fight against the water crisis. These efforts are in line with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 6 – ensuring ‘Clean Water and Sanitation,’ SDG 13 – contributing to ‘Climate Action’ and SDG 17 – creating ‘Partnerships for the Goals’.