How PepsiCo is helping Saudi Arabia improve irrigation and reduce water use

RIYADH: As Saudi Arabia grapples with water scarcity, PepsiCo is making every effort to address the sustainability issue in the region. The company has successfully partnered with farmers to reduce their water use by 25% by introducing extraordinary irrigation techniques in recent years.

“In 2022, we hope to achieve our goal of 100% water resupply in Riyadh, and in 2023, we aim to be water positive across the Kingdom,” said Eugene Willemsen, CEO of PepsiCo for Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, at Arab News. . “Indeed, our ambition is to bring back to the community the same amount of water that we consume throughout our food manufacturing process.”

Willemsen noted that water scarcity within the Gulf Cooperation Council had been a high point on the region’s agenda. He tried to find an effective solution to this problem.

“The scarcity of water in the region, coupled with the arid climate, means that food security is a priority for GCC countries. Governments and communities must find creative and sustainable ways to provide food to people in this region,” he said.

Willemsen said that during the pandemic, PepsiCo has seen several GCC countries effectively mitigate the risks of food supply shocks.

“The Kingdom has specifically been able to work closely with the food and beverage industry and leverage strong government partnerships to ensure minimal disruption and shortages during the pandemic,” he noted.

Take on the challenge

According to the UN, more than half of the planet’s fertile topsoil is now degraded. Asked how the Middle Eastern food industry can meet the challenges posed by this, Willemsen replied: “We have done this by partnering with our farmers and providing regenerative solutions that can help support the sustainable development in the Middle East.

He added: “In response to the challenges posed by the dry climates in the Middle East in terms of soil quality, we have prioritized the efficient use of advanced irrigation solutions. One such example has been our efforts to achieve agricultural water efficiency in the Kingdom for the supply of potatoes used in the supply chain for the snacks sector.

“We have achieved this by setting up potato storage for the summer, introducing more water-efficient potato varieties, improving irrigation efficiency on 1,000 hectares and extending the effective drip irrigation methods to 500 hectares.”

With the installation of efficient irrigation technology at various growers in the Wadi Dawasir region in the fourth quarter of last year, PepsiCo aims to replenish nearly 65% ​​of the total water it consumes in Saudi Arabia. in 2022.

Significant initiative

Elaborating on PepsiCo’s recently launched Food for Thought initiative, Willemsen explained that his goal is to bring sustainability to the fore and bring about meaningful change. “The Food for Thought initiative is intentionally designed differently from the traditional setup used for thought leadership,” he added. “We have redesigned the parameters of the conference and opened up access to stakeholders beyond the usual public and private actors.”

This inclusive platform is open and interactive, aiming to democratize food conversations by bringing together multiple stakeholders from across the food chain.

Following the success of the inaugural event in Dubai, PepsiCo is looking forward to hosting the next edition in Saudi Arabia within the next six months. “We will build on these events and the ideas and emotions they generate to achieve our ultimate goal of putting sustainable food at the forefront of our concerns in the region as we strive for a better future” , Willemsen said.

The company will liaise with the wider community to support further action and spark collaborations.

“We’ve gathered ideas on topics that maybe weren’t gathered before. Potential partnerships unlocked and conversations began. Overall, we are happy to have created this opportunity and look forward to building on the impact in our next session,” said Willemsen.

Food sustainability

According to the leader, the agri-food industry is at the heart of the transition towards a sustainable food system.

“Through partnerships and innovation, the industry must respond to consumer demands and needs within the sustainability model. Knowledgeable and collaborative partnerships are key to leading the way. As the industry moves towards embracing food sustainability, multi-stakeholder partnerships play a role in achieving impactful results, whether with internal audiences, consumers, industry stakeholders or local governments,” he added.

Willemsen pointed out that with emerging concerns related to climate change and an ongoing post-pandemic recovery, there is an increasing focus on reuse, reinvent and recycle for a more resilient circular economy.

He added: “We have focused on positive agriculture and water sustainability. To do this, we have implemented the latest food technologies throughout our value chain, partnering with farmers to apply best practices and introduce more innovative ways of working. We also leveraged our global and local stakeholder base to change behaviors by spreading awareness of effective water saving tactics and regenerative farming practices.

Additionally, the company has ensured access to water for some of its communities by implementing replenishment tactics.

“Our ambition is to become net water positive by 2030, reducing absolute water consumption and replenishing at least 100% of the water used in the local watershed,” Willemsen explained.

By all accounts, PepsiCo, which has two food manufacturing sites in Riyadh and Dammam, has implemented cutting-edge technologies and disrupted current practices with a sustainable approach led by research and development.

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