“How will we grow an adequate quantity—and quality—of food to feed and nourish a rapidly growing, urbanizing world in the face of increasing water insecurity?” This was the primary problem considered by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs at the 2019 Global Food Security Symposium in Washington DC last week. This year’s symposium, ‘From Scarcity to Security: Managing Water for a Nutritious Food Future’ saw the release of a 149-page report by the Council and focus on three central topics: the nature of the threat to water security; strategies to enhance water, food, and nutrition security; and ensuring that water solutions reach smallholder farmers. Continue reading
This week, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs has released the new report: ‘From Scarcity to Security: Managing Water for a Nutritious Food Future’. With more than a third of all people on Earth – approximately 2.4 billion – living in water-scarce conditions, water management is already a priority. Yet the present situation pales in comparison to the worst-case scenario of the coming decades, according to the report authors.
With the global population expected to reach 9.8 billion people by the middle of the century, and with climate change anticipated to destabilize weather patterns in the coming years, the world faces a dual crisis of booming demand and a less predictable supply of water. The report highlights that over one-half of the world’s population could be at risk due to water stress in 2050.
Agriculture is responsible for 71 per cent of global water consumption, and the report cites that that water consumption for farming will increase by 21 per cent by 2050. Farmers will have to increasingly compete with industrial and domestic water demand, with 70 per cent of 2050’s population residing in rapidly growing urban areas which will increasingly demand more diverse and ‘western’ diets that place further demand on water supply. However, both climate change and the over-extraction of groundwater will mean that the supply of this water risks being ever more precarious in the coming decades.
In order to safeguard water resources for farmers and protect their harvests for coming generations, the report highlights several strategies to enhance water security, including: improving governance and institutions for effective water management, incentivising efficient water use through effective water policies, increasing water productivity through investment in agricultural research, development, and technology, shifting diets and diversifying agriculture to reduce demand for water and improve nutrition, and increase the managed water supply and expand irrigated areas.
Many of the report’s strategies emphasise the role of policymakers in changing the institutional and incentive structures for producers and consumers, but there is a great deal that can be done on the ground.
For example, increasing water productivity through agricultural research requires not just investment and incentives from governments, but initiative and action from farmers themselves to enact economic and cultural change, the report details. Concrete steps to increase water productivity include optimizing the efficiency and quality of livestock diets, adopting water-saving irrigation methods and systems, capturing more rainwater and using it more efficiently, and using advanced crop-management techniques enabled by new technology. Furthermore, research initiatives in plant breeding, agronomic and soil management, reducing post harvest losses, and mitigating pollution can allow existing water resources to feed more people.
Increasing the amount of irrigated area, so as to allow greater agricultural productivity than ever before, and increase the resilience of smallholders in the face of climate change is already working. This is especially important for smallholder farmers, who are the least likely to use irrigation methods. As smallholders tend to live in the regions facing the greatest increase in demand for food and the most water insecurity from climate change, it is paramount that innovations in irrigation reach this set of farmers. Thus, a major emphasis of the report is strategies to ensure that these water solutions reach smallholders.
Key means which are set out to ensure this include creating a conducive policy environment, introducing affordable technologies and precision agriculture solutions, expanding financial access, improving the value chain, expanding infrastructure, emboldening institutions to support irrigation management, investing in research and extension services, and building access to assets for women.
“The stakes are high for protecting our water resources, as increasing scarcity threatens to undermine the progress that has been made on global food and nutrition security,” argues managing director of the global food and agriculture program at the Council, Alesha Black, “Failure to treat water as a strategic, valuable and limited resource will accelerate water insecurity, even for historically water-secure populations, and it may threaten the economic and political security of nations, including the United States.”
Featured photo credits: REUTERS Mohamed al-Sayaghi / Anuwar Hazarika
Ahead of World Water Day, Mohamed Aheeyar, a researcher with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), reports on a new case study documenting a remarkable agricultural transformation made possible in Sri Lanka by the rapid spread of motor pumps for irrigation.
The whole region around Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka’s ancient capital, is dotted with village reservoirs managed by small-scale farmers. Referred to locally as “tanks,” the reservoirs form part of complex irrigation systems in use since time immemorial. Farm families like that of Priyantha Kumara, a disabled army veteran, rely on them to irrigate rice in the main monsoon season. But Priyantha and his neighbors aspire to more than the basic food security that this system provides. They want a bigger share of the prosperity that people elsewhere in the country are enjoying.
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.
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
On the 22nd March, people around the world celebrated World Water Day, an annual event held to celebrate freshwater. The initiative, which grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, raises awareness worldwide of the need for sustainable management of water resources.
Agriculture accounts for 70% of freshwater withdrawn for human use and that figure will rise as the demand for irrigated land increases. In a recent report, ‘Charting Our Water Future’, by the 2030 Water Resources Group, estimates showed that in twenty years time our global water requirements will be 40 percent greater than the current supply, which necessitates that the agricultural sector takes steps to use water more efficiently.
The OECD has published a new study looking at the sustainable management of water resources in agriculture. The report highlights the increased pressures on already scarce water resources due to climate change, which has increased the incidence of drought and flood in some areas. Amidst growing urbanisation, industrialisation and more severe weather conditions, the report states that farmers will need to produce more food but with less water, and it offers the following policy recommendations for increasing water efficiency and improving water management in agriculture:
- Recognize the complexity and diversity of managing water resources in agriculture; water use is a complex issue, due to the variety of water resources and different allocations of water to agriculture amongst other consumptive uses in different countries. Policies must be country and region-specific accordingly.
- Strengthen institutions and property rights; simplify the network of organisations that manage water resources and create more flexibility in water property rights to meet environmental demands.
- Ensure charges for water supplied to agriculture reflect full supply costs; need to address the scarcity value of water by developing measures to ensure full cost recovery of water usage in agriculture, which will help to promote water use efficiency.
- Improve policy integration between agriculture, water, energy and environment policies; identifying the interrelationship between these sectors will help to encourage more efficient use of water and energy through, for example, the restoration of land in flood plains by planting of trees.
- Enhance agriculture’s resilience to climate change and climate variability; better land management practices will help to cope with a growing incidence of flood and drought.
- Address knowledge and information deficiencies to better guide water resource management; measuring water use, being transparent about water supply costs and monitoring water extractions will help to direct better policy decision making as well as providing the best technical advice to farmers.