Rising global water risks threaten critical crops and food sector supply chains | WWF
Rising global water risks threaten critical crops and food sector supply chains

Posted on 22 March 2021

With climate change worsening the world’s already severe water crises, the food sector will be exposed to increasing water risks across its global agricultural supply chain according to a new WWF report in collaboration with EDEKA, Germany’s largest retailer.
Launched on World Water Day, the report found the sourcing regions for five popular fruit and vegetables products in the German market – potatoes, bananas, citrus fruits, grapes and avocados – are under increasing physical water risks from scarcity to floods and water quality. In most cases, water scarcity was identified as one of the greatest physical water risks already and was expected to increase in the future, especially for potatoes from Egypt, avocados from Chile and Peru, citrus fruit from Spain, and  grapes from South Africa and India.
Applying the WWF Water Risk Filter’s scenarios to explore future water risks, based on climate and socio-economic changes, the analysis found that water scarcity is not the only cause for concern. For example, flooding was identified as one of the most critical physical water risks for banana plantations from Colombia and Ecuador, while water quality risks were extremely high for potatoes from Germany, citrus fruit from Spain and grapes from India.
“Water risks are very likely to increase by 2050 for all the agricultural commodities covered in our report,” said Ariane Laporte-Bisquit, WWF Water Risk Filter Lead. “The most common threat is worsening water scarcity, but flooding and deteriorating water quality are also rising sharply. Food retailers need to take urgent action to tackle water risks, which will not only de-risk their supply chains, but also help to build more resilient societies and economies."
Already trusted by major multinational companies in the food sector, the WWF Water Risk Filter now provides 2030 and 2050 scenarios of water risks, to help assess future water risks and inform long-term resilience planning for climate and water resilience. While the new report focused primarily on physical water risks, it is also important to account – as the Water Risk Filter does – for the potentially greater regulatory and reputational risks that are likely to emerge as the physical risks increase.
“Water resources are under growing pressure from climate change, increasing the risks to food production in many areas. EDEKA is using the new WWF Water Risk Filter scenarios to better understand future water risks to key agricultural commodities, which will help inform our long-term plans and strategy for climate and water resilience," said Rolf Lange, Head of Corporate Communications at EDEKA Headquarters.
“The WWF Water Risk Filter enables companies to build on water risk assessments and explore how water risks may evolve under different scenarios for 2030 and 2050,” said Laporte-Bisquit. “Once a company has a comprehensive understanding of its current and future water risk exposure, it is then well positioned to consider the next step to implement contextual responses and strategies for resilient agricultural supply chains.”
For companies to address their water risks in deep and meaningful ways to build systemic
basin resilience, they will need to engage in collective action approaches with other stakeholders in the river basin to solve shared challenges. Engaging beyond the boundaries of individual farms in collective action with other stakeholders is at the heart of water stewardship. Two projects led jointly by EDEKA and WWF working with banana farmers in northern Colombia and citrus farmers in southern Spain are examples of successful collective action projects for addressing shared water risks at a basin level.
“As food retail companies often have similar procurement hotspots and thus also water risk hotspots, it is vital for the industry as a whole to work more collaboratively to mitigate shared water risks in critical sourcing regions in order to build a more resilient, water-secure future for all,” said Alexis Morgan, WWF Global Water Stewardship Lead.
Consumers can also make their contribution to reducing water risks by informing themselves about the origin of fruit and vegetables, demanding more transparency, making their purchasing decisions dependent on sustainable production, and buying more regionally and seasonally.
Cover of WWF & EDEKA report on water risks to food sector's agricultural supply chains
Report looks at 5 key crops for German consumers
Growing water risks for 5 key crops for German consumers