environmental: securing responsible resource consumption

environmental sustainability

how we ensure

we consume

resources in a

responsible way

environmental sustainability

Environmental Case Study

30 November 2016

Monitoring, reducing and re-using water in our operations

Monitoring, reducing and re-using water in our operations


Maintaining the most efficient use of water is a key priority for AB Sugar. Our businesses’ sugar manufacturing sites use water for various activities throughout their supply chain and operations such as cleaning sugar beet, irrigating crops and cooling machinery.

What we did

Over recent years, AB Sugar has developed how we monitor and measure the volume of waste water that is reused. Instead of discharging water after one use, operations are now able to reuse water that has been used within the factory for irrigation.

Illovo has 11 sugar cane plants, four of which receive cane from rain-fed farms and the others receive cane from irrigated estates. Illovo’s own cane estates cover approximately 70,000 hectares. Illovo relies on rainfall and other water sources such as rivers, lakes, dams and municipal service providers. Water is required for all agricultural, milling and downstream operations. This year, Illovo’s operations across southern Africa have responded to the impact of widespread drought or delayed summer rains.

Along with investment in water infrastructure, technology to improve water efficiencies and strategies to mitigate water-related risks, Illovo has also invested heavily in improving irrigation systems. The aim is to make the journey of water from point of abstraction, such as a river, to the field and into the crop more efficient. There are varying losses due to evaporation, surface run-off and drainage which can be minimised depending on the choice of irrigation system. Other factors determine which system is best for which estate such as suitability to soil type, water and power availability and financial returns. Centre pivot and drip irrigation systems are increasingly being used over the less efficient furrow and portable pipe sprinkler technology. A remote sensing project is being developed which will combine satellite imagery and weather data to help improve the timing of water application.


In 2016 over 27% of the water our sugar businesses abstracted has been reused for a beneficial purpose before final discharge. As Illovo’s total water abstraction counts for 96% of Associated British Foods’ total water abstracted, much attention is placed on the approach to water management, response to water challenges and reporting of water use.

During the year, Illovo abstracted 769 million m3 of water for use within their factories, to distribute to workers and communities living on their estates and to irrigate their sugar cane estates. Compared with 2015, this is a 12% reduction which is in part due to improvements in the accuracy of water reporting, particularly through metering and because there has been inadequate water in the rivers and other sources to fulfil irrigation requirements. 

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