Momentum Builds for Landscape Level Sustainable Watershed Initiatives


On April 1, the California Department of Water Resources hydrologists are expected to announce the smallest snowpack ever in state history. This will mark the fourth year of an unprecedented drought that has strained the capacity of residents, farmers, business, and government to respond to the immediate crisis and to think strategically about the future of water security in the state. California is not the only water stressed region in the world. Momentum is building to better coordinate action to respond to this type of crisis, as well as to prevent more in the future.

In the past few months members of the jointly stewarded Sustainable Food Lab/SAI Platform Water Risk Collaboration have participated in, provided leadership for, and scoped three potential regions for collective action at the watershed scale in California, the Guanajuato Region of Mexico, and the Ganga River Basin, India. Simultaneously, SAI Platform is coordinating a private sector led initiative to achieve more sustainable water use in the Donana region of Spain, where 70% of Spain’s strawberries are produced, and the UN-based CEO Water Mandate has launched a new tool, the Sustainable Agriculture Portal, to link stakeholders to projects in key water stressed regions around the globe.

In March the California Water Action Collaboration (CWAC) held its its first in-person meeting. The group of diverse stakeholders includes Nestle, Campbell’s, The Nature Conservancy, Sustainable Conservation, Olam and General Mills. During the meeting participants identified three potential areas of work:

  •          Build leadership and dialogue among farmers, businesses, and other stakeholders who are now frequently conflicted about water use;
  •          Advance groundwater management planning, following on recent legislation; and
  •      Support upstream projects that restore groundwater.

Guanajuato State is the ‘grainery’ of Mexico, but its aquifers are overused and dropping between one and three meters a year. On March 26 ABInbev, General Mills, PepsiCo, FEMSA and The Nature Conservancy met in Guanajuato to share their agricultural sourcing and manufacturing goals for water stewardship and identified potential work streams that could lead to faster, better results in watershed sustainability.


In India, additional participants in Sustainable Food Lab /SAI Platform water collaboration are scoping work in the Ganga River Basin to identify opportunities for the private sector to motivate water risk mitigation, as well as link to collective action with other industries dependent on the river.

The Doñana Strawberry and Sustainable Water Management group coordinated by SAI Platform continues to move ahead with implementing a joint strategy at Government, industry and farm levels to adopt the most sustainable and efficient water management practices and protect the sector long-term interest in sourcing strawberries from Doñana. The Doñana Strawberry and Sustainable Water Management group currently comprises four brands: Danone, innocent, Coca-Cola, and Unilever; six retailers: Ahold, Coop, Edeka, Marks & Spencer, Migros and Sainsbury’s; the intermediary companies Eurogroup and Wild Flavors as well as WWF Spain. Also involved as key stakeholders and advisors are the processing company SVZ, and the Ramsar Convention on wetlands.

As these landscape level projects take shape, the development of collaborative tools in the water space is also evolving. This past week, new portals were launched on the Water Action Hub, an interactive, online platform created by the UN Global Compact CEO Water Mandate. The Hub connects businesses with potential partners on water-related projects. The new portals will further catalyze collective action on issues specifically related to the agriculture and apparel industries. Already, 104 organizations have submitted 51 projects on the Portals in eight regions across the globe. Colombia, along with the Mississippi River Basin, the Guadalquivir River Basin in Spain, California’s Central Valley, and the Guanajuato Region of Mexico will be the first regions launched on the Sustainable Agriculture Portal. (To register for the Water Action Hub and the Sustainable Agriculture and Apparel Portals, visit

It is increasingly clear that making progress on some of the most intractable supply chain challenges will require collaboration between companies and other actors, especially when improvements by specific farmers of their individual performance don’t always add up to the health of a watershed or the well-being of farm communities. This work is challenging because it requires coordination among multiple buyers as well as with government, NGOs, and a diversity of local producers and land-users.

In addition to facilitating the implementation of action in these landscapes, Sustainable Food Lab, with its partners SAI Platform and the IDH Sustainable Trade Initiative have made a strategic commitment to support learning and leadership for both local practitioners and private sector leaders.

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