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SIFAV updates Basket of Standards for on- and off-site water management

Water is an essential resource when it comes to producing our food. As such, good water management is one of the focus areas within the SIFAV 2025 strategy .

SIFAV considers voluntary standards one of the key enablers of good water management. To provide guidance for its partners, SIFAV has carried out a new benchmarking study that led to an update of the existing Basket of Water Standards.

Standards for water management

To create a reference on what voluntary standards to apply and adhere to, SIFAV benchmarked several standards that are often used in the fresh produce sector against key criteria for on- and off-site water management to create a Basket of Water Standards. The last benchmarking exercise was carried out in 2022, and a new analysis was conducted in 2023. As the ambition of SIFAV is to move the fresh produce sector from good water management (on-site sustainable use) to water stewardship (sustainable use on catchment level), this third benchmark exercise now also contains an evaluation against updated criteria in collective action and legality.

To further promote water management and to stimulate a movement toward water stewardship, SIFAV is sharing insights on how the selected standards perform on various aspects regarding sustainable water use.

Standard benchmarking: why and how?

To align on- and off-site water management approaches based on best practice across countries and regions, SIFAV commissioned consultancy firm Good Stuff International (GSI) to develop a benchmark framework. Relevant voluntary standards are compared against that benchmark and the results of the exercise provide guidance on how to select a particular standard for a certain region, catchment area or farm.

For SIFAV, benchmarking is an assessment of best practice on an international level. As such, the benchmarking exercises not only help promote transparency and comparability but also drive harmonization and support the alignment of requirements across various markets. The different standards that meet the benchmark are accepted in the approved SIFAV ‘Basket of Standards’ which provides a reliable choice when choosing a voluntary standard. This helps to increase efficiency, reduce audit duplications and costs for producers and offers a flexible pathway towards stronger performance.

New criteria related to legality and collective action

The standards within the basket vary in their depth and focus of coverage of water issues, which enables farmers to select a standard that adequately matches their capacity and that best addresses the specific situation of their farm.

Compared to the analysis in 2022, the assessment framework for the 2023 benchmarking exercise was updated to include new criteria related to legality and collective action in water catchment areas. This was done in response to increasing demand from markets for more robust methods to verify legality in agricultural production, and a growing interest in ways to collaboratively address water issues on a catchment level.

The following standards (or combinations thereof) passed the 2023 benchmarking exercise for the SIFAV Basket of Water Standards:

  • Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) Standard V 2.0
  • BioSuisse
  • CAEE + GlobalG.A.P. combined audit
  • Fairtrade Standard (Small-scale Producer Organizations)
  • GlobalG.A.P. + SAI Farm Sustainably Assessment (FSA) Add-on
  • GlobalG.A.P. + SIZA Environmental Standard Add-on
  • GlobalG.A.P. + SPRING Add-on
  • Leaf Marque
  • Naturland
  • On the Way to Planet Proof + GlobalG.A.P. combined audit
  • Rainforest Alliance Agriculture Standard 2020
  • SAI Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA) V 3.0
  • SIZA Environmental Standard
  • Sustainably Grown V 3.0

    Summary of outcomes – benchmarking 2023

    General outcomes

    The Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) Standard V 2.0 is highlighted as a comprehensive standard covering critical aspects broadly. Other standards such as Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, Sustainably Grown, GlobalG.A.P. + SPRING add-on, GlobalG.A.P. + SIZA Environmental Standard add-on, GlobalG.A.P. + FSA add-on, On the way to Planet Proof + GlobalG.A.P. combined audit, CAEE + GlobalG.A.P. combined audit, are mentioned, as well as BioSuisse and Naturland for organic produce.

    Evolution since 2021

    There has been an improvement in water-related requirements across different systems since the first SIFAV benchmark analysis in 2021. Average scores have risen, indicating the incorporation of more ambitious aspects related to water management.

    Areas of improvement
    • Performance: Some standards perform below average, particularly regarding catchment collective action and stakeholders’ involvement. Recommendations include incorporating additional aspects to improve performance on these indicators, such as better identification of catchment collective action and associated risks or mapping stakeholders.
    • Gaps concerning WASH off-site: All standards showed a gap in supporting access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) off-site. While some standards scored higher on this indicator, overall, there is room for improvement when it comes to WASH across the board.
    • Synergies and crossovers: There is potential for synergies and collaborations between different standards to enhance and strengthen water stewardship efforts. Connecting organizations that excel in water management may foster dialogues and increase impact at a wider catchment level.

    Considerations: how to use the benchmarking results

    • The conducted benchmarking assessment is a desk analysis based on standard documents, checklists, and supporting materials, excluding assurance systems and local/contextual factors. Implementation decisions may be influenced by factors such as costs, capacity, and local availability of auditors and experts. These aspects are not considered in this analysis.
    • High or low scores in the assessment do not inherently label standards as good or bad; rather, they reflect specific strengths or limitations. For future assessments, understanding how standards achieve their goals and contribute to catchment-level impacts on the ground is crucial. Incorporating information on the application and implementation of voluntary standards and third-party verification can provide insights into reliability and effectiveness.
    • It’s important to recognize that no perfect standard exists, and interpretations of indicators can vary among implementers and auditors, leading to differing stringency and efficacy. Capacity-building efforts can align stakeholders on key concepts, especially regarding water stewardship, and promote the development of local guidance materials.
    • Standards have opportunities to enhance specific requirements, particularly in legal compliance and catchment-related aspects. Strengthening guidance on verifying compliance with water and land use regulations, as well as mapping farms in relation to catchment contexts and promoting collective action, can improve understanding of local challenges and coordination of actions at the farm and catchment levels.