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Voluntary standards to promote on-site water management

Good water management is one of the key topics in the 2025 strategy of the Sustainability Initiative Fruit and Vegetables (SIFAV). SIFAV considers voluntary standards one of the key enablers of good water management.

To create a reference on what voluntary standards to apply/adhere to, SIFAV benchmarked several standards that are often used in the fresh produce sector against key criteria for on-site water management to create a basket of water standards. To further promote and mainstream good water management, SIFAV is sharing insights on how the selected standards perform on various water management aspects.

The SIFAV approach on water

Global procurement of fruit and vegetables has an impact on the local water use in the water catchment areas from which the fresh produce is sourced. SIFAV therefore regards water as a priority topic that needs to be acted upon to realize its ambition of a more sustainable fresh produce sector.

SIFAV has adopted a two-fold approach in its 2025 agenda that is based on the broadly supported concept of water stewardship and is tailored to the position of the SIFAV partners as global fresh produce buyers for the European consumer market:

In all sourcing regions with high water risk

Contribute to optimizing on-farm water management by working with suppliers to implement Good Water Management Standards – to at least 70% of sourced volume by 2025, using standards in the SIFAV Basket of Water Standards.

In three priority sourcing areas

Engage more deeply and collaboratively with the aim to positively contribute to resilience and sustainability at catchment level. This deeper involvement will provide valuable insights for SIFAV and its partners about the effectiveness of different approaches that can be scaled up across sourcing areas around the globe.

The benchmarking process and its purpose

To mainstream on-site water management, SIFAV commissioned consultancy firm Good Stuff International (GSI) to develop a benchmark framework, to compare relevant standards against that benchmark and to provide guidance on the standard selection process.

Through benchmarking, SIFAV aims to promote transparency and comparability, drive harmonization and support the alignment of market requirements based on best practice. The different standards that meet the benchmark are accepted in the approved ‘Basket of Standards’. Providing choice through this “basket of standards” approach helps to increase efficiency, reduce audit duplications and costs for producers and offers a flexible pathway towards stronger performance. 

The Basket of Water Standards and benchmarking insights

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 their specific situation. The following standards passed the benchmark for the SIFAV Basket of Water Standards:

  • Alliance for Water Stewardship Standard V 2.0
  • BioSuisse
  • Fairtrade Standard (Small-scale Producer Organizations)
  • GlobalG.A.P. + On the Way to Planet Proof
  • GlobalG.A.P. + SAI Farm Sustainably Assessment (FSA) Add-on
  • GlobalG.A.P. + SIZA Combined Solution/Audit
  • GlobalG.A.P. + SPRING Add-on
  • Leaf Marque + Global GAP
  • Naturland
  • Rainforest Alliance Agriculture Standard 2020
  • SIZA Environmental Standard
  • Sustainably Grown

    In general, the benchmarking study demonstrates that:

    The Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) Standard V 2.0 is the standard covering all critical and key aspects in a broader way. GlobalG.A.P.-SPRING comes after, and with little difference, Rainforest, Fairtrade, GlobalG.A.P-SIZA, GlobalG.A.P + On the way to Planet Proof, GlobalG.A.P-SAI, Sustainably Grown and BioSuisse and Naturland for organic produce.

    All benchmarked standards have an agricultural focus, and although many include off-farm aspects towards water stewardship, they focus on good water management on farm. AWS follows a water stewardship approach and scores the highest in this respect.

    Some of the standards in the basket are below average in some of the 4 key areas (catchment, ecosystems, stakeholders, Water Sanitation & Hygiene / WASH), mainly in catchment and stakeholders. Following recommendations from GSI, SIFAV is following up with those standards to explore ways of incorporating these additional aspects to cover key areas, like better identifying the catchment and associated risks or mapping stakeholders. 

    All standards had a gap in the category of supporting access to WASH off-site. AWS, Fairtrade, BioSuisse and Rainforest Alliance standards scored the highest (2 points) related to this category, nevertheless, in general this criterion can be improved.

    Synergies and crossovers between standards are an opportunity to strengthen standard user ambitions on water stewardship, connect other organisations that are water management champions and bring them together in water stewardship dialogues to increase wider catchment-level impact.

      Next steps for water stewardship

      On-farm optimal management is not enough to address complex water challenges. It is necessary to move towards catchment-level understanding and collective action. This water stewardship approach may imply a long journey for a producer. It is good to start using standards that promote good on-farm water management and some water stewardship components, but not to stop there. For this reason, SIFAV has started collaborative action in the Ica region in Peru, where it is engaging stakeholders and promoting collective action to address shared water challenges.

      At the same time, this Basket of Water Standards will be reviewed and if needed updated to capture new versions of the voluntary standard requirements. Voluntary standard schemes in the Basket of Water Standards are therefore encouraged to reach out to SIFAV in case updates may be necessary. For the same reasons, standards scoring close to the threshold of 1.8 are encouraged to work towards incorporating more ambitious criteria in line with the key areas to remain in the basket.