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23 January 2018

Monitoring, reducing and re-using water in our operations


Maintaining the most efficient use of water is a key priority for AB Sugar every year, and in 2017 there was a particular focus on water stewardship. 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. Where viable, converting less efficient irrigation systems such as sprinklers and flood irrigation to subsurface drip irrigation. The latter is typically 95% more efficient due to focused application of water to the roots and limited exposure to surface evaporation. Technology advancements and improved design has made drip irrigation a viable solution for Illovo.

With two pilot projects underway in Illovo, both have confirmed the benefits of enhanced yield, water, energy, agrochemical and manpower productivity. The drip irrigation water productivity improvements achieved have typically produced at least 25% more crop per drop. 


During 2017, water abstraction remained largely consistent with that of 2016 whereby over 27% of the water our sugar businesses abstracted has been reused for a beneficial purpose before final discharge.

As a result of the successful subsurface drip irrigation pilots, Illovo plans to convert almost 7,500 hectares of less efficiency irrigation systems to subsurface drip over the next six years. The longer-term intent is to continue with this development beyond the six-year plan at a similar rate of conversion where commercially viable. 

Notes to editors:

For further information check out the 2017 Corporate Responsibility Update.

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