World Water Day was declared by the United Nations in 1992 when the UN Conference on Environment and Development was held in Rio de Janeiro. However, it began to be officially celebrated around the world in 1993. This year, the theme of the campaign promoted by the UN is “Valuing Water,” to raise awareness of the environmental, social, business, and cultural value the world’s population gives to this vital resource.

Within the Chilean industrial sector, white meat production is not as water-intensive as other large industries such as agriculture or mining. However, it still requires a continuous supply. “Over the last 20 years, the production of chicken, turkey, and pork has become highly efficient. Significant investments have been made in these three sectors to improve efficiency in the use of water and also in advanced treatment systems, which allow water to be treated, recirculated, and returned to the ecosystem,” says Daniela Álvarez, Head of Sustainability of ChileCarne, the Chilean Meat Exporters’ Association.

According to figures from the Chilean Ministry of the Environment, a circular economy -which in many aspects is based on the efficient use of water- allows for a 33% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions countrywide. Added to the environmental impact, it also implies multiple benefits in social terms, thanks to the creation of jobs related to recycling and new technologies. In economic terms, it represents savings of up to 3% or 4% of the country’s GDP.

The agricultural sector offers great opportunities for circular economy thanks to the continuous improvement of manure and slurry treatments for the production of organomineral fertilizers for agriculture. That means that along with recycling nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and other elements, it helps in recovering soil and water organic matter, thus contributing to the balance of ecosystems. On the other hand, it generates renewable energy and mitigates greenhouse gas emissions significantly.

Industry initiatives that promote efficient water use

In the pork industry, one of the most implemented assets of circular economy is fertigation, which consists of mixing pork slurry with irrigation water to be used as a fertilizer. It adds macro and micronutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, calcium, etc., to the soil, but it also provides key organic matter to improve its quality and structure.

Chilean pig producers have strengthened their engagement with the communities where they are located by implementing distribution systems for this valuable fertilizer in a collaborative model with farmers and neighbors, who benefit from fertigation in their fields.

Currently, 100% of the slurry generated is used for fertigation and distributed to the companies’ own fields as well as farmers in neighboring communities and fields adjacent to livestock farms. It contributes greatly to agricultural production, not only because it hydrates crops, but mainly thanks to the contribution of organic matter and nutrients that improve soil fertility and various properties such as moisture retention, which is key for crops to better withstand water stress.

According to Daniela Álvarez from ChileCarne, “the slurry from 76% of Chile’s pigs is treated with state-of-the-art technologies, such as activated sludge plants, biodigesters, or worm trickling systems, allowing for recirculation in the process and thus higher efficiency in the use of water.”

In turn, poultry production is even more water-use efficient, since birds are bred on wood shavings or sawdust litters and water is not used for the daily cleaning of sheds, unlike pig production. Thus, Chilean broiler production uses up approximately 1.8 million m3 of water per year, equivalent to the amount needed to irrigate 360 hectares of corn and, although it does not use much, work continues to be done to improve management. In the case of slaughtering plants, all the water used is treated and returned to ground flows or aquifers for later use. A small portion is used in irrigation.