To brew our beers, AB InBev depends on high-quality agricultural crops and water from thriving communities and healthy ecosystems. We source barley, corn, rice, sorghum, cassava, and hops directly from more than 20,000 farmers around the world, and whether they are smallholder farmers in East Africa or commercial-scale farmers in Siberia, all rely on healthy soil.
Globally, farming practices over the last century, compounded by the effects of climate change, have inadvertently weakened soil health, threatened water resources, and exacerbated biodiversity loss. Today, in honor of World Soil Day, we take a look at how AB InBev and our partners are addressing these integrated issues using a collaborative systems approach to improve soil health and farmer productivity, protect water resources and mitigate the impact of climate change for more resilient communities.
Taking a tailored approach
We aim to improve soil health through our 2025 sustainability goal of having 100% of our direct farmers skilled, connected, and financially empowered. To that end, our researchers, local agronomists, and partners work closely with our farmers, providing access to new crop varieties, training, technology-enabled insights, and financial tools to improve the productivity and resilience of their land. There are many complexities though, as needs and challenges vary across different landscapes: what works in rice might not work in barley and what works for barley in Mexico might not be suitable for barley growing in India.
To help, we work with local farmers to implement a framework specific to their region, crop and local practices. Our framework, developed in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), provides a unifying structure that is practical to implement and adaptable to different challenges farmers face. It further helps us determine the technical, financial, and cultural support farmers need to adopt new practices, the role AB InBev can play, and the partnerships needed to succeed. Whether improving soil analysis in India, demonstrating evidence of soil health benefits on our model farm in South Africa, or building a farmer peer-to-peer network in the US, our agronomy teams are helping farmers overcome barriers to adoption.
Advancing soil health and ecosystem restoration
Enhanced soil health not only supports our agricultural value chain, it is a critical aspect of water stewardship and biodiversity protection. For breweries in water-stressed areas, advancing soil health and ecosystem restoration in surrounding agricultural land will help secure water availability in the long term for both our communities and our business. It will also help us achieve our 2025 water stewardship goal to measurably improved water quality and availability in 100% of our communities facing high water stress.
We have already begun implementing projects in the communities surrounding our Grupo Modelo breweries in Zacatecas and Apan, Mexico. Together with Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH we are advancing regenerative soil health and water efficient farming practices in the framework of the funding program develoPPP, which the GIZ implements on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.
In the US, the Anheuser-Busch Foundation is working with the National Forest Foundation on a watershed improvement project to improve the quality and supply of water for barley growers in Idaho. The project is rerouting trails and stabilizing streambanks around the Palisades Reservoir in the Snake River watershed. We also used remote sensing technology and satellite data analytics from Gybe, a start-up company that participated in the second cohort of our 100+ Accelerator, to test real-time monitoring of the impacts of these erosion control measures on water quality.
In the water-stressed hops growing region of George, South Africa, South African Breweries (SAB) and WWF have partnered with numerous stakeholders to help solve the growing challenge of invasive species which consume 20-60% more water than indigenous plants. With active support and funding from the Natural Resource Management agency, the partners worked toward clearing riparian land of invasive species to restore the watershed. To help address high levels of poverty in the area, the program was also designed to engage, train and employ local people in the restoration process.
On World Water Day 2021, our brewer in Argentina, Cervecería y Maltería Quilmes, launched Sumá Nativas. The nature-based project is restoring 150 hectares of the Mendoza River basin - an essential source of irrigation, energy, and shelter for biodiversity in the region - that had been destroyed by wildfires.
The project aims to improve water security through revegetation with native plants and contributes to local economic development by producing and commercializing native species via community-run nurseries. Numerous partners are involved, including the Cricyt Foundation; The Argentine Dryland Research Institute; The Argentine Institute of Nivology, Glaciology and Environmental Sciences; the city of Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza and TNC.
Improving and protecting biodiversity
AB InBev and TNC have partnered on numerous projects over the years, most recently on biodiversity in agriculture. Alleviating environmental pressures related to pollution, climate change, natural resource use, land use change, and invasive species helps improve critical ecosystem services for agriculture.
By overlaying environmental datasets with our sourcing regions, AB InBev is identifying priority areas for biodiversity action and developing plans to include mitigation practices, farmer resources and local partnerships. Transparency in our value chain enables us to focus our approach to drive meaningful impact at scale. Already, our Mexico agronomy team has developed a program to promote the use of a native cactus species as a functional field buffer that reduces soil loss and the sedimentation of nearby water bodies and provides farmers with opportunities for additional income.
“Soil health is a key element of AB InBev’s integrated approach to improving water security, protecting biodiversity and reducing emissions throughout our value chain,” said Chief Sustainability Officer Ezgi Barcenas. “Our scale and scope make it possible to have a positive and lasting impact – one that will make our farmers and local communities more resilient now and for years to come.”