Water and food security: where to next?

As World Water Week (see our previous blog) came to a close at the end of last Friday in Stockholm, some of the standout themes that emerged during the week were the water-food-energy nexus, partnerships, tools, and data.

The nexus concept was established in Bonn, Germany, in 2011 when experts met to discuss the need for a holistic approach to the three elements of food, water and energy. With 70% of the earth’s water being used within agriculture it is clear that the connection between food and water is vital in sustaining our resources.

World Water Week put the nexus concept at the forefront of sustainability discussions but the real success of the nexus concept will be in the actions that follow, particularly at a policy level. Projects are already being implemented that not only demonstrate understanding of the link between the three issues, but also recognise that we can no longer tackle resource issues on an individual basis. Partnerships were highlighted as key to addressing some of the bigger water challenges facing business, government and communities.

Following on from the discussions in Stockholm, Guardian Sustainable Business asked a panel of experts what they believed were the key themes and outcomes of World Water Week. The online debate, called Water and food security: where to next?, in association with brewing company SABMiller, discussed the outcomes of World Water Week including the nexus concept and the role of the consumer in water sustainability.

Members of the panel included Conor Linstead, Senior Water Policy Advisor at WWF, Greg Koch, Managing Director of the global stewardship Coca Cola, and Andy Wales, Head of Sustainable Development at SABMiller.

To initiate the debate panel, members were asked what they believed to be the common themes that came out during the week. Marielle Welkel, Director of Corporate Freshwater Strategies at Conservation International said:

The food-water-energy nexus was a huge theme of discussion that came up time and again throughout World Water Week. Although there is ever-increasing focus on collaboration (e.g. NGO-private sector, across the agricultural value chain from field to market), it was clear that more needs to be done.

Andy Wales noted the necessity for governments to begin thinking holistically:

Understanding the resource ‘nexus’ is critical to green growth. Government departments work in silos – often with water, food and energy policy set with no or little regard to each other. Government departments must start working together and that is the next crucial piece of progress.

The panel were later asked how they thought we best combine food production and environmental protection. Kari Vigerstol, hydrologist on the global freshwater team at Nature Conservancy, suggested the key is ‘sustainable intensification’:

The idea here is that we find ways to grow more food with the resources that we have. There is a lot of room to improve production on the lands that are already being cultivated through improved agricultural techniques, technology and innovation. The potential for this improvement varies throughout the world. For example, there is a much greater potential to improve agricultural production efficiencies in Sub-Saharan Africa than in the U.S. or Western Europe. However, I do think that we can still do a much better job of using water more efficiently in almost all areas around the world.

The panel concluded the discussion by adding their own thoughts about what people can do to make a difference. Conor Linsted identified the need to increase people’s awareness of their ‘water footprint’:

A good first step is to understand your personal water footprint and use it to guide your personal purchasing decision and dietary choices, but bearing in mind that where the water comes from is at least as important as the size of the footprint, using a cubic metre of water from Scotland in winter does not have the same impact as the same volume taken from a river in a water stressed area in the dry season.

Greg Koch also replied:

First, seek to understand what watershed your water actually comes from — not the reservoir, well or treatment works but the actual watershed. Then find out what is stressing the water quality and quantity. Groups like The Nature Conservancy, WWF, Conservation International and many local organizations may well have a program where you can lend your voice to their actions and even volunteer in field projects. Once you know the issues, speak to your government representative and make your views known.

 Read Farming First’s position on water.







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