The pharmaceutical and biotech giant is throwing its might behind two of our most pressing challenges by improving access to clean water and reducing water use in agriculture and its operations; and expanding its Nutrient Gap Initiative to include both food and supplements.
New water strategy
This week, at the UN 2023 Water Conference in New York, Bayer launched its new water strategy — pledging to making water an integral part of its business decisions, investments and selection of suppliers. Bayer's water strategy reflects its position as a key player in the fields of health and agriculture and aims to have an impact that goes beyond the company's own business.
“The world is facing a severe water crisis affecting ecosystems, food security and human health,” explains Bayer CEO Werner Baumann. “As a leader in health and nutrition, we have an intrinsic motivation to address the water crisis and make a valuable contribution. With our global footprint and strong supplier engagements, Bayer will create value and encourage sector-wide action. Our ambition is to play a leading role in promoting corporate water stewardship and rallying other businesses to take action to protect the world’s water resources.”
Bayer’s commitments will encompass the entire value chain, from its own operations to the farmers Bayer serves. Key elements of the water strategy are:
Resilient agriculture: On average, 70 percent of global freshwater withdrawals are in agriculture. Bayer commits to improving water productivity in water-scarce regional cropping systems, starting with rice — which is responsible for up to 43 percent of the world’s irrigation water withdrawals. The company is committed to improving water use per kilogram of crop by 25 percent by 2030, by transforming rice-cropping systems for smallholder customers in the relevant regions where Bayer operates. Bayer’s existing commitment of reducing the environmental impact of its crop-protection portfolio by 30 percent by 2030 also contributes to water quality.
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Business and investment: Bayer is developing a concept to integrate water quality and quantity into business decisions and processes that will be rolled out from 2024 onwards. The company will develop a methodology to quantify the value of water and incorporate it into investment processes. In 2021, water and wastewater matters represented roughly 10 percent of Bayer’s total CapEx projects.
Suppliers and growers: Bayer evaluates the sustainability performance of all key suppliers and of selected high-sustainability-risk suppliers using a sustainability-risk classification that includes water. The company has launched a new Supplier Code of Conduct, with dedicated items to address water and wastewater. At the same time, Bayer will continue to drive improvements in water-use efficiency with growers across seed production.
Sites and facilities: Bayer is committed to providing safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) to all employees at its sites; and it continues to minimize emissions at its sites worldwide, including emissions into wastewater. Beyond that, Bayer has established strict voluntary-discharge limits for active ingredients into wastewater at all sites where they are produced. Bayer will build upon the existing water-management systems to optimize the use of water at relevant sites in water-scarce areas and extend them to sites that are forecasted to be in water-scarce regions by 2030. Bayer will set context-relevant water targets for its own operations by 2025 that are to be achieved by 2030.
Ambassador and partnerships: Addressing the water crisis will require broad-based, joint action from a myriad of stakeholders. Bayer is well connected in the water space via its involvement in the World Meteorological Organization for Water and Climate Leaders, its active participation in the Water Resilience Coalition, and its partnership with Australian businesswoman and renowned water advocate Mina Guli; as well as with the International Drought Resilience Alliance — an initiative launched during COP27. Bayer will leverage these strong partnerships to assemble and connect the right leaders and ensure appropriate private sector engagement in the upcoming water debate.
“Until now, the topic of water has been overlooked in the climate debate despite the many interlinkages, but with the UN 2023 Water Conference it is gaining momentum,” says Cristina Alonso Alija, Head of Sustainability, Safety, Health & Environment, and responsible for the water strategy at Bayer. “There are new opportunities to take the right sustainable actions, and we must seize these opportunities now. This is why we make water an integral part of our business and investment decisions across the entire value chain. With these decisions, we will contribute to climate resilience and to more sustainable water usage.”
New Harris Poll study
More than two billion people lack access to safe water around the world. This includes in the US, which has its share of regionalized water-related issues. A new study from The Harris Poll, commissioned by Bayer, confirms people in the US recognize the myriad concerns associated with water, including inequitable access, safety and combatting drought. In fact, nearly two in three (61 percent) are concerned about “ensuring everyone has their fair share of clean water”; while more than half are concerned about the safety of their local water supply (54 percent) and ensuring they personally have access to clean water (57 percent). Across the board, Hispanic and Black Americans are more likely to be concerned about water issues than their white counterparts.
“The water crisis is happening right now, everywhere on our planet — and we are still not doing enough to fight it,” said Matthias Berninger, EVP of Public Affairs at Bayer US. “The concrete, scalable solutions we need to combat the crisis are within our reach; but I believe to get us there, we need more commitment from the private sector, more wide-ranging cooperation, and overarching political action. Our vision of ‘Health for All, Hunger for None’ mandates we do our part to make water accessible, clean and abundant.”
Run Blue campaign
In support of expanding education on the global water crisis, Bayer US is the lead sponsor of Mina Guli’s Run Blue campaign. Guli ran 200 marathons in a year (March 2022 – March 2023) and engaged with local stakeholders along the route to raise awareness around water issues and inspire action. Guli completed her 200th marathon at the United Nations in New York on March 21st, just prior to World Water Day.
“The world still turns a blind eye to our worsening water crisis, even though its effects are very real. I’ve seen how drought, dried-up lakes, a lack of access to water or extreme events like floods shape people’s lives across the globe and in the US. Addressing the water crisis requires real action from everyone, including businesses,” Guli said. “That’s why it’s so impactful for a company like Bayer to make water a priority in its operations, supply chain and innovations.”
Bayer has joined the fight to combat the water crisis by developing innovative solutions for one of the most water-intensive sectors. Some current solutions include:
Advanced breeding — with between 34-43 percent of the world’s irrigation water going to irrigated rice, finding solutions that boost the water efficiency of rice cultivation are critical. Bayer plant scientists continue to pursue modern breeding methods to develop locally adapted hybrids that have higher flooding and drought tolerance.
Irrigation technologies — with irrigation accounting for the lion’s share of agriculture’s water consumption, precision agriculture contributes to significant water savings as well as optimization of energy, labor and use of inputs such as crop protection and fertilizers. Bayer is partnering with irrigation pioneers including Netafim and BGN Tech to develop and promote automated irrigation systems that use up to 60 percent less water, and significantly less energy, than conventional irrigation.
Conservation tillage systems — the adoption of adapted tillage techniques (such as strip-till and no-till) reduces run-off, increases infiltration rates and decreases the evaporation of water in the soil, contributing to improved soil moisture and better soil quality, and ultimately, less water needed for irrigation.
“Water is everybody’s business,” Berninger adds. “It’s up to businesses across all sectors to voluntarily reduce the water footprint of their own activities, invest in innovations that help their customers to become increasingly water-smart, scrutinize their supply chains for planet-conscious water management, and incorporate water use in their investment decisions.”
Expanded Nutrient Gap Initiative
On the food side, as a part of the company’s vision “Health for all, Hunger for None,” Bayer recently expanded its Nutrient Gap Initiative (NGI) to now improve access to both nutritious food and safety net supplementation. The program initially aimed to expand access to essential vitamins and minerals to 50 million people in underserved communities by 2030, with a focus on nutritional supplementation — a critical tool to build a safety net for malnutrition in these communities. On the initiative’s second anniversary, the company is evolving the program to also help close the nutrient gap through the most fundamental source: food — namely fruits, vegetables and grains.
Often called “hidden hunger,” vitamin and mineral deficiencies are highly prevalent in underserved communities, with women and children being most vulnerable. This type of malnutrition develops gradually over time — the impact not seen until irreversible damage is done. Deprivation of essential vitamins and minerals can cause poor immunity, birth defects, reduced work capacity, learning disabilities, fragile health or failure to thrive — often exacerbating the cycle of poverty.
“As a global leader in both agriculture and nutritional supplements, Bayer is uniquely positioned to help all people get access to proper nutrition. The roots of malnutrition are complex and far from one-size-fits-all, so we’re drawing on competencies from across our company to fight it. We want to remove the barriers to a healthy diet for those who need it most,” said Heiko Schipper, President of the Consumer Health Division of Bayer AG and Member of the Board of Management.
With the NGI, Bayer aims to consolidate the company’s commitment to food security by addressing both the quantity of food needed to tackle world hunger, as well as the quality needed to ensure healthy lives, with access to essential vitamins and minerals. Malnutrition disproportionately affects vulnerable groups — in particular, women and girls and rural communities — which has clear overlap with the work the company is already doing to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.
Smallholder farmers are the backbone of many food systems, but their communities often suffer from malnutrition and lack health services. Building on the existing strong infrastructure of Better Life Farming — an initiative founded by Bayer, the International Finance Corporation and Netafim — smallholder farmers will become a key audience for The Nutrient Gap Initiative. The Better Life Farming Centers, predominantly in Asia Pacific, provide smallholders in remote rural regions access to essential agricultural products — a key pillar of Bayer’s Smallholder Initiative, which aims to benefit 100 million smallholders in low-and-middle-income countries by 2030. Bayer will pilot the expansion of services offered with access to nutritional solutions and education given that food security cannot be achieved without health equity.
“For people in underserved communities, access to nutritious food is a challenge due to the cost and local availability of fresh produce and grains. As part of our critical work for food security and smallholder farmers, The Nutrient Gap Initiative will help improve the livelihoods of people who do not have access to vitamins and minerals, leveraging also our Better Life Farming Centers,” said Rodrigo Santos, President of the Crop Science Division of Bayer AG and Member of the Board of Management.
Through direct action and in partnership with critical non-governmental organizations and the public sector, the Nutrient Gap Initiative will help close the nutrient gap by addressing the three main barriers to accessing essential vitamins and minerals:
- Intervention: The NGI aims to bring nutritious food (produce and grains) and supplementation (i.e. essential vitamins and minerals from the World Health Organization Essential Medicines List) within physical and financial reach of underserved communities.
- Education: Many vulnerable populations lack knowledge about proper nutrition, how to integrate vitamins and minerals into diets, and the value of supplementation when needed. Through both direct education and work with healthcare providers and farmers, the NGI will disseminate the information they need to take their health into their own hands.
- Advocacy: Governments and policymakers can have large-scale impact when they prioritize access to affordable and nutritious food, health literacy and make essential supplementation a standard of care. Bayer will collaborate to create an ecosystem to advocate for access to good nutrition.
In 2022, Bayer says the Nutrient Gap Initiative impacted more than 19 million people in underserved communities — accelerating its goal to expand access to everyday health for 100 million people in underserved communities. As the program this year evolves to expand access to nutritious food in addition to supplementation, some of the programs Bayer will be implementing include:
Access to prenatal nutrition: A partnership with global public health nonprofit Vitamin Angels aims to expand access to Multiple Micronutrient Supplementation (MMS, or prenatal vitamins and minerals) for 4 million women and their babies annually.
Smallholder farmer nutrition education: Better Life Farming Centers will now also offer both general and prenatal nutrition education, and self-care product distribution, in partnership with NGOs. Pilot projects have been initiated in Indonesia.
Seed distribution and education in India: A program provides high-quality seeds to urban farmers (people gardening in their balconies/terraces), enabling access to home-grown vegetables to include in their diet. In addition, Bayer is donating seeds to help people in underserved communities get access to nutritious food, while sharing information about the health benefits of vitamins and minerals.
Collaboration with health workers in Africa: In partnership with reach52, a tech social enterprise delivering health services in markets others don’t reach, Bayer is training community health workers in Kenya and South Africa to use the reach52 access app to collect data on key nutrition indicators to understand their gaps in nutrition. reach52 then redeploys agents armed with nutritional education and supplements specifically targeted to the community’s nutritional needs.
R&D commitment for nutrition: In the United States, Bayer is investing more than $400 million to combat hunger and advance health and nutrition — including the development of sustainable crops and an increased focus on vegetables, helping farmers adapt to climate change while improving their ability to provide nutritious produce.
Affordable nutritionals portfolio: Bayer is adapting its portfolio of nutritional supplements to meet the needs of low-income consumers (LIC) and bring it within their financial and physical reach. Most of the Nutritionals LIC portfolio includes at least one ingredient from the World Health Organization Essential Medicines List.