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Crop Cultivation Drinks most of SABMiller’s Water Use

SABMiller, one of the world’s largest brewers, and global environment organization WWF, have released the latest results of their Water Futures Partnership, which highlights the water risks at SABMiller’s operations and river habitats in four countries.

The report, “Water Futures” (PDF), which mapped water footprints in Peru, Tanzania, Ukraine and South Africa, identifies the critical water challenges in each country and how they impact SABMiller’s operations.

A key finding of the report shows that the largest part of SABMiller’s water footprint is from crop cultivation. In each country, more than 90 percent of water used in the production of SABMiller’s brands relates to the cultivation of the raw materials such as hops and barley. However, the water used in agriculture varies from around 150 liters per liter of beer in South Africa to 55 liters in Peru.

SABMiller says because it has a limited amount of control over how these crops are grown, attempts to reduce the size of the footprint will have to focus on influencing suppliers to adopt farming methods that are more water efficient and working with local and national governments and regulators to ensure that water resources are managed “productively, equitably and sustainably.”

The company has started workshops in all of the countries with NGOs, government representatives, local businesses and other stakeholders to begin developing detailed watershed protection programs.

The report also finds that the quantification of the grey water footprint is a problem partly because the methodology remains in the early stages of development and access to robust data is difficult and requires considerable investment in time and resources.

However, SABMiller says it’s clear that in some places including Peru and Ukraine that grey water constitutes the largest percentage of a ‘total’ footprint and places a considerable burden on existing infrastructure and local ecosystems, which was not found in previous water footprint studies in South Africa and the Czech Republic in 2008.

The organizations conclude that the agricultural practices within a region have a potentially far greater impact than previously thought, particularly in relation to the degradation of existing good quality water supplies. As a result of the findings, the brewer will identify ways to mitigate the impact of grey water.

Here are highlights by country.

–Peru: Backus, SABMiller’s Peruvian subsidiary and brewer of brands such as Cusquena has a total water footprint of 61 liters of water to every liter of beer. Within the brewing operations, Backus uses 4.3 liters of water to every liter of beer, a figure which has improved 7 percent since 2008.

–Tanzania: It takes 180 liters of water to produce one liter of beers such as Kilimanjaro and Safari in Tanzania. Since 2008 water efficiency in the brewing operations has improved by 11 percent, and now stands at 6.5 liters of water to each liter of beer.

–Ukraine: SABMiller’s Ukrainian business, Sarmat, has a total value chain water footprint of 61 liters of water to each liter of beer of which 6.9 liters are used within the brewery. Acquired by SABMiller in 2008, there are no comparable efficiency figures to measure improvement.

–South Africa: A total of 155 liters is used in the value chain to produce 1 liter of beer, indicating no substantial changes from the original study. In its breweries SAB Ltd. uses 4.1 liters of water to each liter of beer, an improvement of 8 percent since 2008.

Another beverage company, Coca-Cola, together with the environmental group The Nature Conservancy, also conducted studies that looked at its water footprint.

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