Lack of clean water is a global challenge

One-third of the world's countries are threatened by a shortage of water. To ensure all people have access to clean water, from a global perspective, we need to achieve more efficient water use and avoid over-extraction from risk areas. We also need to minimise contamination of water sources.

Agriculture's water footprint

Agriculture accounts for about 70% of global water use, primarily through irrigation. The agriculture sector also has an impact on water resources through the leaching of nutrients and crop protection substances that can contaminate water bodies. Imports and exports of food and other agricultural products between different parts of the world also move water resources globally, which can be a problem in the case of exports from water-stressed areas.

Water availability and water use are areas where we are continuously increasing our knowledge in order to manage long-term risks and opportunities. Swedish farmers have been working to minimise the risks of leaching and pollution for some time. We are also working closely with other stakeholders to find solutions to common challenges in food production.

Most rainfall in the cultivation stage

Knowledge of how different raw materials and their origins affect water resources is a prerequisite to moving development in the right direction. With this in mind, we have calculated the water footprint for three different types of products that represent a large part of our production – Idealmakaroner (macaroni), grain ethanol and wheat flour. A massive 99 percent of the water footprint for the analysed products comes in the cultivation stage. However, grain is grown in Sweden with regular rainfall, which means there is a minimal direct impact on water availability.

Production of 1 kg of wheat in Sweden requires a total of about 1,000-1,500 litres of water, with the absolute majority in the cultivation stage. The water footprint from the cultivation of wheat varies from country to country depending on climate, cultivation method and irrigation. The global average is about 2,000 litres, with irrigation (blue water) constituting a large proportion of this. Swedish grain farming has a much smaller water footprint and normally takes place with normal rainfall (green water). Other comparisons are 290 litres for 1 kg of potatoes, 2,500 litres for 1 kg of rice and 15,500 litres for 1 kg of beef. See sources at the bottom*

Water use in our own activities

In 2011, we established an annual risk analysis of water availability in the catchment areas where Lantmännen has production facilities or workshops. The vast majority of our facilities are located in areas with a low risk of water shortage. Measures for efficient use of water are regularly conducted at our facilities as part of the resource management process. The facilities that have water-impacting emissions follow the control programmes required under the permit.

Total water withdrawal by source

 

The high figures for “Unspecified” are due to incomplete data. However, the assessment is that the majority of this category is from the municipal water supply.

Impact on water quality – mainly eutrophication in the cultivation stage

Losses of nutrients from agricultural land affect water sources in the catchment area. Lantmännen has been working for some time to reduce eutrophication by developing and offering products and services for optimised cultivation. Two examples are plant advisory services and N-sensor for optimised nitrogen fertilization. We also participate in several collaborations for optimised cultivation, including Cultivation in balance and Focus on nutrients.

*Sources: Beef: Hoekstra, A.Y., Chapagain, A.K., 2007. Water footprints of nations: water use by people as a function of their consumption pattern. Water Resource Management 21, 35e48. Potatoes: Mekonnen, M.M. and Hoekstra, A.Y. (2011) The green, blue and grey water footprint of crops and derived crop products, Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 15(5): 1577-1600. Rice: Chapagain, A.K. and Hoekstra, A.Y. (2011) The blue, green and grey water footprint of rice from production and consumption perspectives, Ecological Economics, 70(4): 749-758.