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How Woolworths Is Building Resilience in Its Food Supply Chain

As with any multinational retailer, a high proportion of the environmental impacts resulting from Woolworths operations worldwide are linked to the farming and/or processing of products that we sell. As a result, we make it our business to work together with our suppliers to minimise these impacts, and to positively influence the environmental and social outcomes of doing business. Challenges we face in our global supply chain include impacts of extreme weather events, soil degradation, declining water quality and increasing input costs; below are a few of the initiatives and partnerships aimed at addressing them.

Farming for the Future

Woolworths developed the Farming for the Future programme to manage, monitor and transform environmental performance among produce suppliers via an independent audit and certification scheme. We focus on encouraging reduced and sustainable pesticide and fertiliser application, efficient irrigation practices and soil conservation techniques, among others. Now in our sixth year of the programme, we have 141 (98 percent) of our primary produce, horticulture, wine and dairy suppliers and 92 of our secondary suppliers working as part of the scheme.

Justin Smith,
speaker at
SB '16 Cape Town
Through this programme we continue to specifically drive a reduction in water usage through improved irrigation practices, soil moisture and wastewater management, as well as broader catchment-level influences such as alien vegetation infestation on farms.

Water Stewardship

Woolworths works with WWF in the progression of the Ceres Water Stewardship project, in association with the Alliance for Water Stewardship and Marks & Spencer, to address water-related risks in the supply chain. A group of stone fruit farmers in the Ceres Valley, Western Cape, for example, have together with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research worked through understanding their own water use, planning improvements and finally implementing the first water stewardship steps. The project is now addressing larger-scale water issues in the upper Breede catchment, including urban water quality issues, alien plant-clearing and the provision of more water-related information.

Not only has this partnership drawn on the expertise of leading NGOs and suppliers to address water-related risks and build resilience at a farm level, but by driving collaboration within the catchment, it is helping to address water security risks at a more systemic level, well beyond our operational or even supplier farm boundary.

Climate resilience

Woolworths has also collaborated with WWF-South Africa, Marks & Spencer and the British High Commission to better understand, proactively respond to and communicate the climate change risks and adaptation opportunities in the South African food system. The project has four components:

  • Understanding climate science in a local context
  • Practical climate adaptation for farmers
  • Government dialogue
  • Further commercial outreach

In the short run, the project is harnessing the experience of South African and UK retailers in strengthening the capacity of both retailers and food producers in South Africa to adapt to climate change.


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