Keeping South Africa's taps running

When in Rome

Conserving the Cauca River

Our Colombian business Bavaria is one of the driving forces behind a fund dedicated to maintaining water resources in the Cauca River Valley

Clean, fresh water is as fundamental to the brewing process as yeast, hops and barley. In many places, though, this precious resource cannot be taken for granted. One such example is the Cauca River Valley, a region situated in western Colombia.

The valley is home to the Cerveceria del Valle (Valle) brewery, which is one of six breweries operated by Bavaria. The brewery draws its water from the Cauca River, but it is far from the only downstream water user: the area is also Colombia’s largest producer of sugarcane, and demand from sugarcane plantation irrigation systems, coupled with the requirements of industrial users and the area’s growing population, threatens to outstrip supply. Water of the highest quality is vital for brewing and already the increasing contamination of water drawn from the river means Valle has the highest purification costs among Bavaria’s breweries.

Now a group of private and public sector organisations have joined together to try and help the valley’s ecosystem fight back, so clean water flows can be maintained for everybody. The Water for Life and Sustainability Fund, to which Bavaria is the third biggest contributor, has so far raised some US$4.5 million to invest in conservation and watershed protection projects, with an ultimate aim of raising a total of US$15 million.

It takes its structure from an aqua fund model which has been developed by the Nature Conservancy, and backed by other partners such as the Inter-American Development Bank and the Global Environment Facility. Aqua funds are a model for long term conservation whereby major water users invest in a fund that protects upstream water sources through conservation. This ensures clean, safe drinking water for lower level downstream water users such as residents and small businesses. Major water users in turn save money by pre-empting the need for costlier water treatment in the future. Clean water remains available for local communities and more habitat is conserved for wildlife.

To date, the Water for Life and Sustainability Fund has initiated 65 sub-projects, eight of which have been directly funded by our Bavaria business, in and around the Cauca River Valley. This local response to a localised issue is achieving significant results:

  • 7,801 hectares (ha) set aside for conservation and protection
  • 719 ha under sustainable agricultural production
  • 1,280 ha native forest being allowed to grow in intensive cattle ranching areas
  • 1,255 ha intensive cattle ranching area converted to environmentally friendly practices
  • Participating families have increased their incomes between 30-65%
  • 34 septic systems established
  • 554 springs isolated and protected
  • 178,000 native trees planted

Bavaria is now developing action plans to secure shared water resources in each of the watersheds that serve its Colombian breweries, and will deploy the aqua fund model as a key part of this. We are also exploring opportunities to apply the model in Africa.

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