Stories tagged: Water

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. Continue reading

World Water Week

2013 has by the UN General Assembly been declared the “International Year of Water Cooperation“. The questions to be addressed in 2013 include: why do we need to cooperate, on what, for what aim, at what level, with whom and, not least, how?

From 1-6 September the Stockholm International Water Institute will host the annual World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden in an attempt to answer some of these questions.

World Water Week will see leading organisations, politicians, NGOs and UN representatives discuss the fragility of the world’s most important resource, water.

The event’s main theme is ‘Water Cooperation – Building Partnerships’ to coincide with the UN’s year of water and the programme includes thematic discussions, an ideas marketplace and field visits.

Farming First will Tweet live and post regular updates on the outcomes of the event, follow @farmingfirst to stay up to date.

For more information about the event click here

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.







World Water Week Opens With a Call for Global Action to Reduce Food Waste

Over two thousand politicians, CEOs, scientists and leaders of international organisations have descended on Stockholm for World Water Week, the annual knowledge-sharing event hosted by the Stockholm International Water Institute. The theme of this year’s conference is “Water and Food Security”.

The week opened with a global call to action to reduce food waste as a means to preserve water. At the opening session, global leaders called for substantial increases in public and private sector investment to reduce losses of food in the supply chain, enhance water efficiency in agriculture and curb consumer waste.

Speaking at the opening session, Torgny Holmgren, Executive Director of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) said:

More than one-fourth of all the water we use worldwide is taken to grow over one billion tons of food that nobody eats. That water, together with the billions of dollars spent to grow, ship, package and purchase the food, is sent down the drain. Reducing the waste of food is the smartest and most direct route to relieve pressure on water and land resources. It’s an opportunity we cannot afford to overlook.

Over 100 sessions are scheduled to take place throughout the week, where convening experts will debate and showcase solutions to ensure that the world’s limited water resources can meet the needs of growing economies and support a healthy global population.

José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), urged that agriculture has the potential to be an important part of the solution to achieving water security:

The numbers show that agriculture is a thirsty activity. But that also means that agriculture holds the key to sustainable water use. Investment in smallholder farmers is critical to achieve food and water security for all people.

Last week the Stockholm International Water Institute released a report: “Feeding a thirsty world: Challenges and opportunities for a water and food secure future”. Authored by a dozen experts from SIWI, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the report provides new evidence that shows how continuing current trends in food production could lead to increased shortages and intense competition for scarce water resources in many regions across the world.

Globally, 900 million people are hungry and two billion more people are under nourished. With 70 percent of all water withdrawals used in agriculture, growing more food to feed an additional 2 billion people by 2050 will place greater pressure on available water and land. These statistics speak for themselves and the solution is not simple and has many facets. As the report says:

Addressing the challenges related to “water and food security”, through the entire chain from production to beneficial use and waste, calls for focus on a wide range of technical, economic, financial, institutional, governance and political issues, with the “triple bottom line” of economic development, social equity and environmental sustainability guiding us.

Get involved with World Water Week and watch the live webcast.

Read more about applying the Farming First principles to increase water use efficiency.

OECD Launches new report “Environmental Outlook to 2050: The Consequences of Inaction”

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has launched a new report Environmental Outlook to 2050: The Consequences of Inaction. It explores the question “What will the next four decades bring?” and urges governments to take immediate policy action before the consequences of recent decades of unprecedented human growth become irreversible.

The report is based on joint modelling by the OECD and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and focuses on the implications of socio- economic trends on four key areas of concern: climate change, biodiversity, freshwater and health impacts of pollution. It concludes that despite uncertainties, urgent and holistic action is needed from policy-makers or the consequences will be significant on both human and economic terms. The report ultimately presents interlinked action-based solutions and addresses some potential challenges and trade-offs.

The report discusses key growth projections for 2050:

  • World energy demand in 2050 will be 80% higher, with most growth to come from emerging economies and still 85% reliant on fossil fuel-based energy. This could lead to a 50% increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally and worsening air pollution. *
  • Urban air pollution is set to become the top environmental cause of mortality worldwide by 2050, ahead of dirty water and lack of sanitation. *
  • Global biodiversity is projected to decline by a further 10% and areas of mature forests are projected to shrink by 13%.*
  • About one-third of biodiversity in rivers and lakes worldwide has already been lost, and further losses are projected to 2050. *

*From an OECD article on the report

The arrival of these projections could see a future hard-pressed to meet the needs of 9 billion people. To avert this scenario, the report recommends new thinking through a variety of global policy solutions such as environmental taxes, emissions trading schemes, pricing of natural assets and ecosystem services, removal of wasteful subsidies and schemes, and encouraging green innovation around production and consumption modes.

OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría says:

Greener sources of growth can help governments today as they tackle these pressing challenges. Greening agriculture, water and energy supply and manufacturing will be critical by 2050 to meet the needs of over 9 billion people.

The report also highlights some effective green growth policies already in place in many countries such as the UK, US, Mexico and Japan. One example is a water pilot programme in Mexico that transfers cash directly to farmers instead of subsidising the electricity they use to pump irrigation water, helping to remove price distortion leading to over-use of groundwater.

Gurría says:

We have already witnessed the collapse of some fisheries due to overfishing, with significant impacts on coastal communities, and severe water shortages are a looming threat to agriculture. These enormous environmental challenges cannot be addressed in isolation. They must be managed in the context of other global challenges, such as food and energy security, and poverty alleviation.

Access the report here.

Read more about biodiversity, climate change and water in relation to agriculture on Farming First’s website.

World Turns Attention to Water for World Water Day and 6th World Water Forum

Today is World Water Day. The order of the day is to highlight the inextricable link between water and food security. We may only drink between 2 and 4 litres of water per day, but the food we eat also demands water. One kilo of wheat for example, requires 1,500 litres of water, and a steak demands ten times that, 15,000 litres.  This video explains how water is in fact “All you eat”.

On their website – the United Nations recommends that to feed a growing population in which one billion people are already hungry, we must find ways to ease the pressures on our water supply, by consuming less water-intensive products, reducing food wastage and producing more food, of better quality, with less water.

Last week saw delegates from 140 countries gather in Marseille for the World Water Forum, a six-day event held every three years to discuss solutions for the world’s water, energy and food challenges. The forum is the world’s largest meeting on water, that aims to unite stakeholders at a local, regional and national level in order to establish a common framework of goals and concrete targets to reach regarding the world’s water supply.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon opened the event in Marseille. He stated:

 The challenges are huge and the problems are deep-rooted. The number of human beings who have no access to clean water is in the billions. Each year, we mourn millions of dead from the health risks that this causes. This situation is not acceptable — the world community must rise and tackle it.

The fourth edition of the United Nations World Water Development Report: Managing Water under Uncertainty and Risk was launched to coincide with the World Water Forum and warned that unprecedented growth in demand for water is threatening global development goals. It explains that while 86 per cent of the population in developing regions are expected to have improved access to safe drinking water by 2015, there are still nearly 1 billion people without such access and, in cities, the numbers are growing.

Agriculture is responsible for up to 70% of water use globally. It is therefore essential to recognise and react to the responsibility that the agriculture sector has to reduce water wastage. The OECD has also recently launched a report entitled “Water Quality and Agriculture, Meeting the Policy Challenge’. It addresses challenges such as reducing water pollution caused by agriculture, (for which it remains the main source) which is costing billions of dollars annually. It explains that as agricultural production is set to intensify to feed a growing population, pressure on water systems is certain to increase, and the need to ensure water quality is more apparent than ever.

The report provides recommendations which countries could consider to move towards sustainable management of water quality in agriculture, including:

  • Use a mix of policy instruments to address water pollution rather than a single policy instruments such as a pollution tax, which have been proven to be less effective
  • Enforce compliance with existing water quality regulations and standards
  • Set realistic water quality targets and standards for agriculture that are easily measurable and have a clear time frame.
  • Establish information systems to support farmers, water managers and policy makers. Technical and socio-economic information about the impacts of policy changes are critical.

Despite good progress being made towards the Millennium Development Goal of 89% access to drinking water, nearly 800 million people are still without access to safe water. The MDG target to improve basic sanitation, such as latrines and hygienic waste collection, is also a long way from being met. Several organisations have criticised the World Water Forum for favouring the interests of large transnational corporations, rather than the policy reform that is urgently needed.

Daniel Yeo, WaterAid’s senior policy adviser for water security said:

They will have the big debates there, but it’s not where change happens. The real situation is that dirty water kills more kids in sub-Saharan Africa than TB, malaria and Aids combined. We have the technology to change this; what we need is the political will and the internal capacity to deliver it in developing countries.

Further reading:

Read how Rainwater harvesting can boost crop yields

Read The Independent’s article on water wastage, by Sarah Morrison

Read the AlertNet blog on the 6th World Water Forum

Visit the WaterAid board on Pinterest