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SABMiller India is working with local communities and partners to tackle the root causes of water stress

India has long been known as the world’s largest democracy, and its population is forecast to rise from 1.2 billion people today to 1.5 billion by 2030 – a point at which it may even overtake China as the world’s most populous nation. 

A rising population is one of the principal reasons why water stress has become an important issue in India. Government census figures indicate that by 2011 each Indian citizen had on average 15% less water available to them than a decade before.

As significant users of water to brew beer, our Indian breweries have a responsibility to their local communities to do what they can to mitigate water risk. Apart from addressing water efficiency within the breweries themselves – which on average improved by 32% between 2008 and 2011 – we undertook detailed hydrological risk assessments for the areas in which we operate, and found that a number were under various levels of threat.

Rajasthan

In Neemrana, Rajasthan, the assessments revealed that farmers were using 87% of available water, with industry (including brewing) at 4%, and domestic use at 9%. The local farmers play a vital role in feeding their communities, but our assessments revealed that agriculture was an intensive user of water; many traditional water storage tanks were damaged or destroyed, with farmers resorting instead to boring deep wells, which were starting run dry as groundwater reserves reduced. We also found that much of the local rainfall was not being captured, instead being lost to evaporation or run-off.

At SABMiller we tackle water stress by managing both the demand and supply of water.

At Neemrana we have partnered with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Humana People to People, and developed water capture and diversion structures that aim to increase the amount of water being recharged to underground aquifers. At the same time we are reducing the demand on water by encouraging more water-efficient farming practices, such as ‘smart irrigation’ techniques; a series of special agriculture training camps have attracted more than 5,000 local farmers.

Tackled in combination we have been able to increase ground water levels in the project area by around 23%, and reduce the amount of water lost to run-off by up to 40%. In addition, over the past three years, farmers engaged with the project have on average increased their productivity per hectare by between 17% and 34%, and raised their disposable incomes by an average 18%.

We’re also working with farmers in Chomu, in Rajasthan’s barley belt, to encourage them to manage their crops in more water efficient ways, as ground water quality is poor and levels are declining. The project is proving effective, with recorded water savings of 14%. At the same time, crop productivity is benefiting, with an average percentage increase in barley yield per hectare of nearly 13.8%. The project covers 29 villages and the aim is to both improve the water balance in the area, and create a sustainable model.

Andhra Pradesh

In the state of Andhra Pradesh the water risk situation is acute; it sits within the designated semi-arid tropics (SAT) region and the area is a hot spot for poverty, food insecurity and water scarcity, while land resources are prone to degradation. It is also home to our Charminar Breweries, located close to the state capital, Hyderabad. Here we are working with ICRISAT, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, plus other partners, to develop strategies that will sustainably manage water resources while also improving the livelihoods of the farming community.

So far, a series of water-conserving structures and dams have been built in villages to capture water and minimise erosion. By the end of December 2013 these efforts had created additional storage capacity of more than 50,000m3 of water in the project villages. This should result in deep groundwater reserves being replenished by 125,000m3 or more every year, a volume equivalent to 50 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Farmers have also been given a package of agriculture extension support that includes improved crop varieties and soil nutrients.

Haryana

In Sonepat, Haryana, close to the capital New Delhi, we are working with the CII and local commercial farmers to support greater water efficiency in the way the farmers cultivate more than 12,000 hectares of land.

We’ve contacted more than 2,300 farmers to promote better monitoring of groundwater levels, improved irrigation practices and additional water conservation techniques. In addition, 82 farmers have agreed to participate in crop trial exercises; results from these are encouraging, with water usage decreasing by 18% compared with traditional farming methods during the rainy season.

In each case, our aim is to empower and enable farmers to become more efficient in the way they use water, using partnerships to connect and engage with our neighbouring communities. We believe this collaborative approach will help us to stay on top of the water challenge in India.

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