World Water Summit Coverage – Key Themes for Agriculture

Farming First attended the day-long World Water Summit in London, hosted by The Economist, urging those in the water sector that now is the “time for action.”

Several of the panel sessions looked at the intersection of water management and agriculture.  Here are some of the key issues and themes which emerged from the discussions:

Bridging the Data Gap

Several speakers focused on the need for more and better data to inform business and policymaking in the water sector.

Guido Schmidt-Traub, Executive Director of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Netwok (UNSDSN), said that there is a vast amount of data out there (including within the agricultural sector), but that it has not been mobilised to inform policymaking for water management.

Kerry Preete, Executive Vice President of Monsanto, echoed this call-to-action, pointing out examples of where his company was taking action.  This included work on more location-specific weather collection data, which could help farmers get insights on the right time to plant and harvest rather than relying on guesswork (see here for more information).

Clear, Long-term Goal Setting

Schmidt-Traub later went on to discuss the need for “back casting” to inform decision-making.  In other words, he suggested that we must work backwards from future realities, say in the year 2030 or 2050, to inform the path we must take today to address these concerns.

This view mirrors the approach taken by Farming First in its infographic looking at the post-2015 development agenda, where all of the statistics included were projections from the year 2030 (when the post-2015 agenda will expire).  For example, see this statistic below on “water use”, which shows that global water demand will increase by more than 50% by 2030, with agriculture alone requiring more than what can be sustained even before other uses of water were factored in.  In fact, according to another speaker John Aitkin from Syngenta, the demand gap for water is estimated at around 40% by 2030.

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Schmidt-Traub argued that inefficiencies must be reduced and an innovation pipeline must be supported since “new technologies do not just fall out of the sky.”

Preete also introduced new water-saving targets that Monsanto had committed to achieve by the year 2020; they pledged to reduce water use in the irrigation of their seed production by 25% by 2020.  This would be enough water to serve a city of 380,000 people for an entire year.

Jeremy Bird, Director General of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), said it is essential to increase agricultural productivity sustainably  while improving resilience and reducing waste. He noted an IWMI report “Bright Spots Demonstrate Community Successes in African Agriculture” (PDF) – as an example of how this can be done. The report states that “Only improved agricultural productivity can simultaneously improve welfare among the 75 percent of the population that works primarily in agriculture as well as the urban poor who spend over 60 percent of their budget on food staples.”

Cross-sector Partnerships

Yvo de Boer, Director General of the Global Green Growth Institute (and former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), led the group of speakers discussing partnerships with a very practical set of recommendations. He advised groups to bring “the right partners to the table” who had both an interest in the issue and an opportunity to be gained from making change (He was careful to advise that this included local communities of water users.)

Preete also highlighted Monsanto’s philanthropic partnership with the African Agricultural Techology Foundation (AATF) to work on a “water-efficient maize for Africa”, or “WEMA” for short.  He reported that the first plantings last year in Kenya produced a 210% increase in yields – 4.5 tons per hectare rather than the 1.8 tons produced on average in the country.

Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, also stressed that because water lies at the heart of so many connected issues (including the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals), it is important for there to be collaboration between states, as well as amongst different sectors and disciplines.

For more information, visit the World Water Summit website or search Twitter with the hashtag #watersummit.