January 2019

In June 2018, the citrus farm Iberesparragal, in Spain, achieved the first gold certification under the AWS standard in Europe and one of the first ones in the agricultural sector worldwide. As a component of GSI's project with the Alliance for Water Stewardship on supporting implementation and capacity building on AWS, we supported the whole implementation process at Iberesparragal by applying the WaterData4Action approach. The result is a practical case study from where different achievements and learnings can be extracted.


The Iberesparragal case study

“Iberesparragal" is a citrus farm in the province of Seville, Spain, which belongs to the fruit distribution company Iberhanse-Naturgreen. Its CEO, Luis Bolaños was worried about the ever-growing challenges facing agriculture in the Guadalquivir basin, where the farm is located. Luis recognised that changes were needed within and beyond his farm, through improving irrigation, capacity building and working with others to ensure sufficient water quality and quantity in the catchment.

The EDEKA/WWF Zitrus project and the AWS standard

Luis’s vision attracted the attention of their main client, EDEKA, the leading supermarket chain in Germany. EDEKA was already working with WWF through a partnership to encourage good agricultural practices and environmental protection. As a result, EDEKA, WWF and Iberhanse-Naturgreen agreed to work together on the ‘Zitrus Project’ implementing activities related to biodiversity protection, toxic load reduction, improve water use and working to implement activities to create benefits throughout the wider catchment. As the Zitrus Project progressed, certification against the AWS Standard (www.a4ws.org) presented an opportunity to receive third party certification against a globally recognised standard and support stakeholder engagement throughout the catchment, and identify actions which could be undertaken, in adherence with AWS four outcomes:

AWS 4 outcomes. Source: www.a4ws.org

Source: www.a4ws.org


This was the first agricultural implementation of the AWS Standard in Europe, so it presented a challenge to the farm. However, support from project partners and local support throughout the whole implementation process from GSI helped the implementation process.

One of the first lessons learned was that true commitment and understanding of Water Stewardship is equally important for both implementers (farmers in this case) and supply chain partners for such an initiative to kick-off. A few capacity building and workshop sessions were needed to get the farmer and partners fully onboard and start the implementation process.


First AWS kick-off workshop at Iberhanse-Sevilla. March 2017.

Photo credit: Erika Zarate - GSI

One of the first actions was to improve the farmes' understanding of their catchment and associated water risks, like forecasted impacts of climate change, water stress, water quality as well as regulatory and reputational risks. Luis and his team highlighted an improved understanding of the catchment, risks and local stakeholders as one of the main benefits of applying the AWS Standard. They were also encouraged to understand the role of other catchment stakeholders and to identify opportunities to engage them in taking action to protect water resources, starting a collaborative way of working with others locally.

This shows that capacity on water, and grasping the site and catchment situation is key for meaningful Water Stewardship implementation.


“We had little idea about the catchment we are located in, its water balance, quality, stakeholders and the impact to and from our activity in the farm. The Zitrus Project and AWS implementation provided us a valuable knowledge and understanding on the catchment context we didn’t have before”

Miguel Hidalgo, Operations Manager at Iberesparragal


Developing & implementing a Water Stewardship Plan

Based on the risks and challenges found, a planning process was carried out jointly with project partners, outlining targets, measures to be taken and monitoring ways to track performance against the targets.

The implementation of the plan served to evidence an actual water withdrawal reduction of more than 15% (with an initial target of 8%), ensuring that saved water remained in the catchment and thus improving the site and catchment water balance and supporting the ecosystem. All records in soil, pests control, agri-chemicals use and water analyses served to evidence a good water quality in the catchment, and in addition with biodiversity identification and monitoring, environmental flow studies, and mapping of important natural spaces, it was possible to mantain water-related important areas in a healthy status.

Finally, the system guarantees legal compliance in the future, and adaptability to future changes in regulations, and governance was improved thank to key stakeholder identification and engagement process, being the best example the multi-stakeholder meeting held with project partners, other farmers, the River Basin authority, public administrations and other water users in the catchment. This served to share the experience in order to highlight the benefits of a water stewardship approach and make the case for stronger action in the catchment. You can find more details on the outcomes of this case in the Iberesparragal case study brochure here.



 Multi-Stakeholder meeting at El Esparragal, February 20, 2018

Photo credit: Alex Fernández - GSI


Outcomes and Benefits to the Business

The main benefits of implementing AWS for Iberesparragal are:

  • Its reputation has been strengthened and its commercial relationship with EDEKA is secured.
  • The business has reduced its costs through improvements in water infrastructure and management knowledge.
  • The farmers has a much richer knowledge of the catchment, its hydrological dynamics. This enables them to be much better prepared for droughts and climate change, gaining resilience in their business.
  • New tools and methodologies have been developed and are being implemented, equipping and empowering the farmer.
  • Efforts are taking place to identify and engage other water users in search of better catchment water management, sharing knowledge, communicating actions and seeking coordination.
  • By communicating with the public administrations, the business is helping to promote good water governance and support the development of public initiatives.
  • As the first farm in Europe to implement the AWS Standard, they are building their reputation and carrying out activities with other farmers in the Zitrus Project, who are now similarly committed to water stewardship based on Iberesparragal’s experience.

Iberesparragal was the first site in Europe to achieve AWS certification. But above all, this experience served as a way to change the farmers' mindset, help them look beyond the farm fences, understand the water context and set the ground for collective and efficient catchment-level action. It served to integrate existing and new actions and relate them to the catchment reality.

An important learning was that measures taken before implementation can be incorporated into the AWS process, integrating existing and new actions and relating them to the catchment reality, no matter if the goal is certification or not, as a framework to support and guide water users to become good water stewards.

Finally, a set of lessons and solutions was generated from this experience, that can now be found in our lessons and solutions section.

Find the full case study brochure here


 Iberesparragal farm, November 2018

Photo credit: Alex Fernández - GSI