SAI tools support farmers in assessing, measuring and implementing sustainable agricultural practices. All systems are voluntary and easy-to-use, even for smallholder farms. On-farm water management is widely covered.

Description

In 2002, Nestlé, Unilever and Danone formed the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI); a platform which now brings together over 70 companies sharing knowledge and best practices on sustainable agricultural practices. SAI develops tools and guidance to support sustainable sourcing and production of arable and vegetable crops, beef, coffee, dairy and fruit. SAI’s Farm Sustainability Assessment provides a questionnaire to assess farm sustainability, which can be used directly with farmers or as a benchmark tool for comparing proprietary codes/company charters and certification schemes. Check points are scaled as either essential, basic or advanced, and the tool includes an intuitive scoring mechanism with a visualized overview of the farm’s performance.

SAI also offers water-specific guidance in its documents entitled “Principles & Practices for Sustainable Water Management in Agriculture” and “Water Stewardship in Sustainable Agriculture”. The P&P document presents recommended practices of water management for economic, social and environmental sustainability on a higher level than is covered in the FSA alone. Additionally, it features principles and practices specific for the production of coffee, dairy & livestock and vegetables & fruits. The water stewardship document provides a more general introduction to the catchment approach and stakeholder engagement within water management. Together, these resources make up a great package for sustainability efforts!

Farming

FSA:

Conservation of important ecosystems such as wetlands and peat lands. Assessment of the suitability of the land for its current and planned use including previous use, current characteristics of the land, impact on neighbouring activities and respecting the rights of communities regarding access to natural resources.

A “farm management plan” identifying risks and opportunities, and with concrete targets on e.g. water availability. A “water management plan” to minimize use and waste of irrigated water (see Irrigation). Cooperation with other water users to balance needs and diversification of sources mentioned as possible measures.

P&P (additional):

Farm selection and management that takes into account water stress levels, availability and quality of water sources; choice and location for crop production should be chosen based on this, and water harvesting and storage planned if necessary. Minimising or/and reducing water use by managing soil fertility and reducing land degradation, reusing, recycling, conserving and collecting water and/or using low demand systems (see Irrigation and Water reuse). Storing runoff using tanks, ponds, cisterns or earth dams. Conduct water audit and balance including recycling and irrigation per crop; implement water meters for crops and pumping systems and record regularly.

Minimise and mitigate impacts on ecosystems through e.g. low water fertilizers, ensuring infrastructure for delivery of water is adequately maintained, assessing maximum levels of water extraction above which underlying ecosystem would get overexploited, ensuring adequacy of resource/aquatic protection, sealing unused wells. The comprehensive “water management plan” should ensure efficient use of water while at the same time preserving volume and quality of reserves and courses (for the list of guidelines, see p. 13).

FSA:

Assessment of the suitability of the land for its current and planned use, including any water pollution caused by the farm.  A “farm management plan” identifying risks and opportunities, and with concrete targets on e.g. soil and water pollution. For farms with irrigation systems, water quality in terms of minerals, chemicals and/or microbiological composition should be assessed regularly and managed based on results. A “water management plan” including an inventory of water resources and mitigating actions.

P&P (additional):

Farm selection and management that takes into account water stress levels, availability and quality of water sources; location for crop production should be chosen based on this, and water harvesting and storage planned if necessary.

Complete annual risk assessment for irrigation water pollution including microbial, chemical or physical pollution. Where wastewater is used, ensure quality complies with the WHO guidelines for the safe use of wastewater. When considered risk, industrial residue water, sludge and untreated wastewater should not be used.

FSA:

A “water use plan” aimed to minimize use and waste of irrigated water through e.g. rainwater harvesting, irrigation at night, irrigation system monitoring to minimize leakage etc. The “water management plan” includes an inventory of water resources and mitigating actions, taking into account timing and amount of irrigation in relation to crop requirements, the “added value” of irrigation and weather forecasts in order to avoid depletion of water resources beyond the recharge capacity of the watershed. Optimized irrigation method in use where water is reused and recycled where possible. Irrigation records are maintained.

P&P (additional):

Plan irrigation system and make sure it achieves water reduction; assess soil types and their water holding capacity, design irrigation system to suit the soil types (soil water managed by drainage maintenance in wet climates and soil moisture conservation practices in dry conditions), minimise losses and energy input (for more detail see SAI’s technical briefs on water conservation). Regularly check and ensure proper functioning of pumps, mains, hydrants, sprinkler heads, operating pressures, differential pressure, flow rates and irrigation uniformity across farm. Schedule irrigation to reduce water use (for the list of guidelines see p. 8-9). Maintain water management logbook including precipitation, evaporation and irrigation water; measure irrigation efficiency and compare with local and industry level. Prevent and reduce water losses and leakage (for the list of guidelines, see p. 9).

FSA:

Fertilizer type chosen based on quality, source, quantity and application method to increase nutrient efficiency and reduce negative environmental impact. The use of untreated sludge and sewage sludge should be prevented. Harmless composition and application of organic manure and treated sludge, and records of applications. All fertilizers safely stored and a risk assessment of the storage performed and followed up. Informed choice of seed, planting and grafting material, taking into account fertilizer need etc. Non-target areas and crops should be protected from agrochemical applications.

Fertilizer application equipment should be maintained and calibrated regularly. Equipment and containers stored and cleaned safely for the environment. Hazardous and agrochemical waste managed and disposed of in a way that minimizes risks to the environment. “Nutrient management plan” including fertilizer application rate and interval. Optimum plant spacing in the field should be taken into account in order to optimize the use of and minimize leakage of fertilizers.

P&P (additional):

Safe fertilizer storage located downslope from farm buildings and at maximum distance from water bodies. Water/flooding prevented from entering storage areas. Avoid runoff after spreading organic or mineral fertilizers. It is recommended to seek outside expertise to identify what waste, by-products and pollution control issues that exist on farm, and appropriate ways these can be assessed.

FSA:

Only officially permitted plant protection products (PPP) used and precautionary actions applied to protect environment from the application. Maximum authorized rates of PPP and label recommendations respected. The person to apply pesticides should receive training in Integrated Pest Management (IPM)*. Informed choice of seed, planting and grafting material, taking into account disease resistance etc. A safe handling and storage of PPPs must be applied, keeping records of storage and application. Chemical PPPs applied only when necessary and non-chemical pesticides are used where possible.

Side effects of pesticide application are minimized by using selective pesticides, targeted application and/or seed dressing. PPP application equipment should be maintained and calibrated regularly; equipment and containers stored and cleaned safely for the environment. Hazardous and agrochemical waste should be managed and disposed of in a way that minimizes risks to the environment. If red-listed PPPs are used, there should be a plan for phasing them out.

P&P (additional):

Use IPM prevention, avoidance, monitoring and suppression techniques, and only apply lowest risk pesticides available when monitoring indicates that an economic pest threshold has been exceeded. Pesticide applications must follow label requirements. Pesticides not applied to water logged, steep or frozen ground where risk of runoff. Assess risk assessment of pesticide use on water resources through tools as Field crops indicator and PRiME. Monitor impact of pesticide use on water environment over time and implement strategy on basis of this data. Implementing mitigation measures for water pollution such as application rate reduction, shifting application timing, using buffer strips, constructing wetlands, grassed waterways, subsurface drains, filters.

*IPM is the integrated use of a range of pest (insect, weed or disease) control strategies in a way that not only reduces pesticide use but is sustainable and minimises pollution through use of chemical pesticides. However, IPM is a complex process and requires levels of analytical skills and certain basic training in crop monitoring and ecological principles.

FSA:

Conservation of primary forest, wetland, grassland, peatland or other native ecosystems. Avoiding crop disease cross contamination and cultivation of invasive species. Complying with all regulations if using GM species. Making an informed choice of seed and planting material, taking into account genetic diversity on the farm etc. Measures to conserve and improve soil health, including soil biodiversity. Biodiversity should be assessed as well as priority actions to preserve biodiversity. If a farm is situated next to or in protected areas, the farmer must work with legal permits and ensure that the activities do not harm the ecosystem.

Take into account optimum plant spacing in field and consider intercropping and companion planting to enhance biodiversity. Integrated Pest Management applied (see Pesticides). “Biodiversity plan” to maintain or improve biodiversity. Habitat restoration practiced using preferably native species, and compensation for areas on the farm that have been prone to habitat/biodiversity loss. If farm activities are located next to or in protected areas (national parks, wildlife refuges, biological corridors or forestry reserves), it is recommended to maintain buffer zones with trees, bushes or other vegetation.

P&P (additional):

FSA:

Waste and by products of harvesting and processing are reduced, reused and recycled. Optimal timing for crop deliveries should be discussed with customers.

P&P (additional):

FSA:

An optimized irrigation method applied where water is reused and recycled where possible.

P&P (additional):

Minimising or/and reducing water use throughout farm activities by reusing, recycling, conserving and collecting water.

FSA:

The “water management plan” aims to optimize water usage, but does not mention water used for cleaning explicitly.

P&P (additional):

Use rainwater harvesting for cleaning purposes.

FSA:

Measures taken to maximize energy use efficiency, including optimizing use of energy-intensive inputs and minimizing energy used for cropping by using no-till. Machinery and equipment maintained to ensure proper and efficient functioning. Air pollution sources identified and air quality monitored.

P&P (additional):

Plan irrigation system to minimise energy inputs. Assess potential future cost of adapting to water scarcity in terms of e.g. energy prices.

FSA:

All people on the farm (workers and families when living on the farm) must have access to safe drinking water and hygienic toilet and hand-washing facilities. Activities to promote prevention of diseases undertaken, and personal hygiene among workers encouraged.

P&P (additional):

Support training of farm employees and workers on water use and management, to promote conservation and avoidance of pollution of water courses. Engage with local communities and understand any conflicting water use demands and the communities’ dependency on water resources.

FSA:

Conservation of primary forest, wetland, grassland, peat land or other native ecosystems. Selection of seed, planting and grafting varieties that takes into account disease resistance, on-farm genetic diversity and adaptation to local climatic and geographic conditions. Crop rotation used where applicable. Intercropping and companion planting considered to stabilize and secure harvests. The “water management plan” includes inventory of water resources and mitigating actions, such as diversification of water sources to ensure water access continuity across seasons. Risk mitigation strategy in place to survive environmental shocks such as drought.

P&P (additional):

Identify economic risks linked to water use and potential impacts of climate change.

FSA:

Water used for irrigation or treatment must comply with applicable regulations and legislation. Buffer zones should be maintained adjacent to water. Procedures and equipment available to deal with spills of PPPs, fertilizers and fuels. Measures including regular quality checks taken to avoid water and soil pollution from waste water; runoff of chemicals, mineral and organic substances is prevented. The “water management plan” aims to minimize waste water.

P&P (additional):

Conservation agriculture techniques to minimise delivery and transport of pollutants; reduce transported water or remediate pollutant before it is delivered to the water source through chemical or biological transformation. Other measures include conservation tillage, riparian buffer zones, beetle banks across slopes and growing cycle crops. Avoid runoff pathways by repairing damaged guttering and checking for leaks, installing reed beds, collecting any effluent from silage clamps, separating clean and dirty water to recycle or divert to ditch or watercourse, and collecting potentially harmful runoff liquid from manure. For soil protection techniques that impact water runoff, see Soil erosion. Prevent pollution of waterways on and near the farm, avoid discharge of untreated effluents into natural waters, reduce runoff by implementing conservation tillage, terraces, raised ridges, contour cropping.

For ways to reduce water losses, see Overexploited water source. For ways to avoid leakage of pesticides and chemicals, see Fertilizers and Pesticides.

FSA:

Measures in place to avoid soil erosion, e.g. following contours with operations for soil preparation, terracing, cover crops, minimized tillage, wind breaks, buffer zones adjacent to water. Measures to conserve and improve soil health include the use of organic manure and compost and soil humidity management (drainage maintenance practices in wet climate and rainwater harvesting or mulching in dry conditions). Habitat restoration practised in degraded areas that have been prone to soil erosion. Integrated pest management applied (see Pesticides).

P&P (additional):

“Management plan” for potential pollutants caused by erosion. Conservation agriculture techniques to minimise delivery and transport of pollutants; reduce transported water or remediate pollutant before it is delivered to the water source through chemical or biological transformation. Other measures include conservation tillage, riparian buffer zones, beetle banks across slopes and growing cycle crops.

Soil protection techniques include measures to improve infiltration through ploughing along contours and using conservational tillage where appropriate, blocking runoff pathways through relocating gates if applicable, establishing infield grass strips, and reducing wind erosion through the use of cover crops.

FSA:

Conservation and improvement of soil health ensured through minimum tillage, returning of crop residues to the field, organic manure and compost application, cover crops, avoiding excessive use of agrochemicals and soil humidity management (drainage maintenance practices in wet climate and rainwater harvesting or mulching in dry conditions). Crop rotation used where applicable. Compaction by machines or livestock is avoided. Integrated pest management applied (see Pesticides).

P&P (additional):

Conservation agriculture techniques to minimise delivery and transport of pollutants, such as conservation tillage, growing cycle crops to improve soil organic matter or planting forage and using grazing rotations among fields.

FSA:

Crop rotation applied where relevant. Taking soil type into account when choosing seed and planting material. Periodic soil sampling (of OM, N, P, K, pH and micro nutrients) to monitor changes in soil condition used as input in a “nutrient management plan” which is updated annually and consists of an overview of nutritional needs of crops, soil types, application rates of fertilizers, nutrient input/output balance calculations etc. Habitat restoration practiced in degraded areas that have been prone to soil fertility loss. Integrated Pest Management applied (see Pesticides).

P&P (additional):

“Management plan” for potential pollutants, such as nutrients. Conservation agriculture techniques to minimise delivery and transport of pollutants; reduce transported water or remediate pollutant before it is delivered to the water source through chemical or biological transformation. Other measures include conservation tillage, riparian buffer zones, beetle banks across slopes and growing cycle crops.

Soil protection techniques include measures to improve infiltration through ploughing along contours and using conservational tillage where appropriate, blocking runoff pathways through relocating gates if applicable, establishing infield grass strips, and reducing wind erosion through the use of cover crops.