The current water charges campaign is all about who should pay but at least Ireland can look forward to having plenty of clean drinking water. It is much different elsewhere.

In California, disagreement has broken out between leading agribusiness chiefs over the cultivation of almonds. At the recent FT Commodities Global Conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, David MacLennan, chief executive of Cargill claimed that due to the worst drought in decades, California should restrict the growing of almonds which he says are responsible to using up 10% of the state’s water. He believes it has become a case of “people versus almonds”.

California accounts for 80% of global almond supplies and demand for almonds and other nuts has grown sharply over the past few years because of widely cited health benefits. Almonds contain antioxidants and other nutrients as well as being non-glycemic, meaning they do not raise blood sugar levels after consumption. Almond prices hit a record $5 per pound last year. Despite the higher prices, demand has remained strong especially in the USA, India and the Middle East. This in turn encouraged farmers to increase acreage under cultivation with a resultant increase in water usage.

In India, Coca Cola has been forced to abandon plans to build an $81 million bottling plant in the southern state of Tamil Nadu after fierce resistance from local farmers who fear the water usage of the US beverage company would cause an instant fall in the water table.

Last year, Coca Cola was forced to mothball a new $24 million bottling line in its existing bottling plant at Medhiganj in northern India having failed to get permission from the Central Ground Water Authority to operate it, amid protests from farmers. Coke is also locked in a legal battle with the State authorities over whether it can still operate its older bottling line.

Experts in agribusiness have identified water security as one of the leading challenges facing the global agricultural industry. Prolonged drought and severe water shortages are signs that sustainability needs to become the ‘new normal’.