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AB InBev Working with Growers to Optimize Water Management, Barley Production

As a company that relies heavily on water for production, Anheuser-Busch InBev is rightly investing a great deal of time, thought and money into water management. In its 2013 Global Citizenship Report, the world's largest brewer commits to eight new environmental goals and reports on current progress and pilots. The company says it achieved and in some cases exceeded its 2012 goals; the eight new goals are set against a 2012 baseline, to be met by 2017.

The brewer says when it comes to the amount of water required to brew beer, more than 90 percent goes into growing the barley and other agricultural inputs used in the brewing process.

“Add to that the fact that some of our beverage plants are located in water-stressed regions, and it is clear what a vested interest we have in ensuring an abundant supply of fresh, clean water — for our company and for the communities where we operate,” the company says in the report.

AB InBev is a signatory and on the Steering Committee of the UN CEO Water Mandate, and the company says it has integrated the Mandate’s six core elements into its approach to water management: direct operations, supply chain and watershed management, collective action, public policy, community engagement and transparency.

“We are responsible for buying and using almost a quarter of the world's malt and barley,” John Rogers, Global Manager of Agricultural Development at AB InBev, said in a recent interview. “We have a lot of experience and expertise as a result and we really want to make sure that we are bringing that experience and expertise out to that supply chain, to that grower so that we are creating that value at the farm level.”

While five of the eight new goals for 2017 focus on packaging, supply chain and logistics improvements, three are related to water management:

  • Reduce global water usage to an industry-leading 3.2 hectoliters of water per hectoliter of production: This will reduce the amount of water it takes to produce a bottle of beer by 9.6 percent. AB InBev says the 5.4 percent water reduction it achieved in 2013 saved the company $2.5 million and the equivalent of the water needed to make more than 6 billion cans of its products.
  • Reduce water risks and improve water management in 100 percent of their key barley-growing regions in partnership with local stakeholders: The brewer aims to improve water management through disseminating best cropping practices, and reducing water risk through developing high yielding drought-tolerant varieties.
  • Engage in watershed protection measures at all facilities located in key areas, in partnership with local stakeholders: Ensuring access to fresh water for its facilities and the communities and regions surrounding them is a high priority, the company says — particularly relevant since some of them are located in water-stressed areas.

“One of the best assets that we have as a company is our scale, our expertise and our ability to be a conduit for collaboration, for bringing civil society or other private companies or government together around a common opportunity, a common cause,” Rogers said.

Several pilot programs are underway to achieve the 2017 goals, aimed at helping farmers achieve the best yields and quality at the lowest possible costs, reduce environmental impacts and improve the economics of barley production.

“We started doing a risk assessment within our supply chain, looking at — where across our barley footprint are we exposed to water risk, water stress,” Rogers explains. “What we identified when we were doing those on-site assessments were that a number of activities had already been taking place but we as a company had the opportunity to really benchmark and establish best practice sharing from region to region.”

An example of this is SmartBarley, a farm-level benchmarking tool that the company piloted last year. The tool enables growers to compare their barley production through advanced productivity and environmental key performance indicators — to the production of other barley growers within their region as well as globally. Once the statistics are in, farmers can collaborate with AB InBev’s agronomists and field specialists to improve crop management practices to increase productivity and reduce their footprint. Water-related indicators such as irrigation water productivity, nitrogen use efficiency and soil health parameters are available through the iPad-based tool.

This year the program expands to 1,900 barley growers in 8 countries across the Americas and Asia. “There's going to be a lot of learning as we go. It's a program for the growers but also by the growers; it's going to have a lot of grower engagement and participation in terms of improving it — we are very excited at the possibility,” Rogers said.


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