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Since World Water Day in 2018, we have seen another year of extreme weather events, from large parts of Europe experiencing exceptional heat and drought through the summer of 2018 to Kerala suffering its worst flooding since the 1920s. Aside from shorter term impacts like significant yield reduction, these events have global long term consequences. 

There is a growing consensus that farm climate resilience is critical to sustained food production and protection of farming communities. We’ve seen great examples of suppliers taking action on farms to shore up reserves in water-stressed areas, like G’s our salad supplier in East Anglia investing in more water reservoirs. Beyond the farm gate, we’re committed to keep playing our part by scaling up effective management of water and land use as catchment level with key water users. 

Our water stewardship journey started 10 years ago and has involved working collaboratively with the likes of WWF, AWS and other retailers around the world. But there’s so much more to do. In an effort to scale up water stewardship, we’ve joined together with other UK retailers as part of WRAP’s Courtauld Water ambition. We’ve collectively committed to reduce water use in our own operations and support water stress related projects in areas that are some of our most important sourcing locations for the UK market.  Examples of projects we have committed to supporting are: 

  • A project in the Western Cape of South Africa where some of our delicious grapes and stone fruit is grown. This project aims to build on existing water stewardship work in a region which suffers from extreme drought. 
  • In the Medway area of the UK, we are supporting a project aimed at developing best practice for water efficiency and surface water - management, and wildlife improvements outside of polytunnel and greenhouses - this area is crucial for us sourcing the very best British strawberries!
  • The Wye and Usk rivers are vital to UK to agriculture. Due to water pollution the river is under significant pressure, so we are supporting a project to strengthen and join up existing initiatives to enable catchment level change.

Whilst these projects address issues in some of the highest-risk sourcing locations for M&S, to solve the global water crisis efforts need to be far reaching; by working with suppliers who are responsible water users we can have a bigger impact. 

All of our Fruit, Salad and Veg is grown on Select Farms by growers we know and trust to meet our quality and environmental protection standards. There are lots of great stories on water from our grower base; for example, our green bean supplier in Kenya recently upgraded their entire water network with more efficient pumps fitted with monitors, which allows supply to be adjusted to fit demand and which has significantly reduced water usage and wastage. In 2017 our banana grower in Ghana invested significantly in finding alternative water for irrigation to ensure local communities have access to enough water for their own production needs (mainly rice). 

What the latter example reminds us is that it is vitally important to balance water use with the needs of nature and communities; and therefore, engagement of all water users is necessary to drive systemic change that’s needed. As part of our effort to scale stewardship we are committed to greater collaboration with water users through programmes like Courtauld and to continue to take steps to reduce water use as a business and encourage step change within our supply chains through programmes like Select Farms.