The 22nd of March is World Water Day, an annual United Nations Observance, the day focuses on the importance of water. The theme for this year is ‘Groundwater - making the invisible visible’. 

At Montville Coffee we think about water. Coffee and water have an extremely complex relationship. The Dutch NGO Water Footprint Network estimates that a standard cup of coffee requires 140 litres of water yet many coffee-producing countries struggle with water scarcity and access to clean water! This is definitely something worth considering.

Coffee is both a labour and resource-intensive crop to grow. Depending on climate, coffee can be cultivated in a variety of ways. In the tropics of Central and South America, small coffee farms rely on rainfall to water their plants. In other locations, like some parts of Africa, farmers must use irrigation from nearby bodies of water. Regardless of location, as the global demand for coffee increases and the weather becomes increasingly unpredictable, more and more coffee is irrigated from groundwater and surface water. 

The leading coffee producing and exporting countries in the world are also some of the poorest and are often without immediate access to clean water. High levels of coffee production lead to greater contamination of local drinking water. This is made worse when toxic chemicals, pesticides, fertilisers and sediments are released via run-off and soil erosion.

This year World Water Day is focusing on groundwater.

Here are some things you should know about groundwater:

  • Groundwater is invisible, but its impact is visible everywhere
  • Out of sight, under our feet, groundwater is a hidden treasure that enriches our lives
  • In the driest parts of the world, it may be the only water people have
  • Almost all of the liquid freshwater in the world is groundwater, supporting drinking water supplies, sanitation systems, farming, industry and ecosystems
  • In many places, human activities over-use and pollute groundwater
  • In other places, we simply do not know how much water is down there 

Why should we care about groundwater?

  • Groundwater is being over-used in many areas, where more water is abstracted from aquifers than is recharged by rain and snow
  • Groundwater pollution is a particular problem that can take decades or even centuries to recover from
  • In some places, we do not know how much groundwater lies beneath our feet, which means we could be failing to harness a potentially vital water resource. 

What can we do about groundwater? 

  • We must protect groundwater from pollution and use it sustainably, balancing the needs of people and the planet. Groundwater’s vital role in water and sanitation systems, agriculture, industry, ecosystems and climate change adaptation must be reflected in sustainable development policymaking
  • Exploring, protecting and sustainably using groundwater will be central to surviving and adapting to climate change and meeting the needs of a growing population. 

Fairtrade and water

  • Water management is built into the Fairtrade Standards - producer organisations must ensure responsible use of water on their farms as well as protecting local water sources 
  • Many farms use the Fairtrade Premium to improve farming practices, such as filtering water runoff or on-farm drip irrigation, installing rainwater tanks and educating local farmers

Certified Organic and water

  • Organic farming is a whole system or holistic approach to growing and handling food - the whole system is linked: soil, plants, animal, food, people, water, the environment. Organic farming sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions.
  • Certified Organic products are grown and processed without the use of synthetic chemicals, fertilisers or GMO’s greatly reducing the risk of groundwater and surface water pollution
  • The entire supply chain (wholesalers, retailers and consumers) are subject to rigorous and transparent standards

Groundwater will play a critical role in adapting to climate change. We need to work together to sustainably manage this precious resource.


March 22, 2022 — Lauren Scaroni