Agricultural production accounts for the majority of water-consumption world-wide. There are several products that causes serious water-stress in the production regions. As consumers, we can decide to foster ecological and water-sensitive production by choosing the right products. OBUK is starting to develop an own transnational seminar branch, which includes as well accommodation and food for the participants. In order to consume eco-sensitive we started to investigate the water footprint of some of the products that we do or will consume in larger amounts. There are some “peak”-products with very high demand of water and origin from regions with water-stress that were the focus in our investigation.
According to the tables on waterfootprint.org, Cocoa beans have one of the highest water-footprints of crops: around 20m³ per kg. But only 179 litres are grey-water and there is almost no use of blue-water. That means that the water-footprint is mainly rain-water. So it becomes very important in which way the crops are planted. Traditionally the cocoa-trees are planted in-between and under others threes in mixed cultures, because the cocoa-trees don’t like the direct sun. Most of the cocoa is produced from one of the worlds up to five million smallholder cocoa farmers mainly located in West-Africa, Asia, Central- and South-America. The Ivory-coast and Ghana are the biggest producers which delivered in 2014 more than 60% of the world’s cocoa-harvest. Cocoa-production got in critics because of extensive use of child-labour and forced labour. The big majority of cocoa-producers are small farmers that are working with a very limited usage of pesticides, mainly because of the lag of financial resources.
The fair-trade criterias guarantee that a fair price paid to the farmers, they fight against child-labour and for workers rights and often support social and environmental initiatives in the villages. A good example of fair cocoa-production is the cooperative El Ceibo in Bolivia. El Ceibo has been growing, processing and exporting Bolivian cocoa beans for the last 30 years. It is a cooperative of cooperatives, consisting of 1000 families spread across El Beni’s forests, a tropical region to the north of the country. The cocoa plantations from the air look no different than a pristine jungle. The cocoa trees are shade-grown, with species that protect the plants from the sun and heavy rains. This technique also protects wildlife habitats and ensures a more sustainable use of the soil’s resources.
OBUK decided to use and provide chocolate and cocoa-powder from the El Ceibo-cooperative.
A cup of coffee has a average water footprint of 140 litres. Respective the production-country of the coffee beans the water footprint of 1 kg of coffee is between 6m³ in Vietnam and 49m³ in Togo. This big range has it reasons mainly in the climate-conditions of the origin-country because 95% of the water footprint is green-water. Coffee is typically cultivated in tropical and subtropical areas at high elevations, often in rugged mountainous areas and naturally grows under a shaded canopy of trees. “Traditional coffee is often integral to agro-forestry systems in which tree species are cultivated together with coffee and other agricultural commodities”, Victoria Moore from Manchester University writes.* “These regions are home to many different floras that contribute to high biodiversity levels. The sheltering from canopies also provides a valuable habitat for indigenous animals and insects, as well as preventing topsoil erosion and removing the need for chemical fertilizers. However, due to increased market demands in recent years, this innocuous form of agriculture has been superseded by “sun cultivation” techniques. Originating in the 1970’s, sun cultivated (or sun grown) coffee is produced on plantations, where forestry is cleared so that coffee is grown in rows as a monoculture with no canopy.
Sun cultivated coffee, in concert with the necessary addition of fertilizer, creates the highest yield of coffee, but eliminates the diversity of plants which support an array of insects and animals, posing detrimental impacts to the biodiversity of the region, as well as other environmental harms.”
Over 2,5 Million acres of forest have been cleared in Central America alone to establish coffee plantations. Moore reports further on that: “Contamination of waterways also pose serious environmental threats from the processing of coffee beans. Largely irrespective of how coffee is grown, discharges from coffee processing plants represent a major source of river pollution. Ecological impacts result from the discharge of organic pollutants from the processing plants to rivers and waterways, triggering eutrophication of water systems and robbing aquatic plants and wildlife of essential oxygen.”
The ecological alternative to the big scale-plantation-coffee is shade grown Coffee. Coffee plants are interspersed beneath local forest trees. It’s the traditional and natural way how coffee grows in this regions.
With our goal of supporting fair-trade relations and cooperative organisational structures we found the Hamburg-based fair-trade Coffee-marketing-cooperatives “Café libertad” and “Aroma Zapatista”. They are offering fair-trade ecological Coffee from small farmers in Chiapas (Mexico). The small farmers of the cooperatives are producing shadow grown (and mostly organic certified) coffee.
OBUK is mainly ordering the coffee from these partners and offering it to the groups in our guest-house as well.
The Banana is for a long time mainly a mass production plantation-product. Global players like Chiquita (22%), Dole (26%) and Del Monte (15%) are dominating the market. Only 5 percent of the Bananas sold in Germany are sold under the Fair-trade criterias. Around 10% of the Bananas sold in Germany are produced with organic standards.
Bananas are grown in tropical or subtropical regions with high precipitation. Despite that, a lot of Banana monocultures are irrigated. That does not cause scarcity, but the problem is the pollution of the water. Industrial farming methods keep the weed away so that heavy rains a flushing away soil, pesticides and fertilizers that are polluting the surface water. The preparation for the transport as well pollutes the water heavily. In organic growing techniques this problem does not occur.
OBUK prefers organic grown fair-trade bananas for example from the fair-trade association Banafair, that imports Banana from the Ecuadorian peasants organisation UROCAL.
Apples are the Germans most favourite fruit. Apples grown in Germany don’t have a high water-footprint – only 213 litres per kg. The regional production doesn’t force water-scarcity. More important is the carbon-footprint that gets very high in case of long storage in cooling houses over the winter or long transportation ways. We prefer locally produced apples from old mixed fruit-tree grasslands or organic production.
WRITTEN BY OBUK e.V.