Water for Food

Perspectives on Achieving a Water and Food Secure Future

April 29, 2015


At the 7th World Water Forum in South Korea, many of the world’s top researchers and leaders in the water and food sectors gathered to share ideas and progress toward ensuring a water and secure future. With an expected population growth of 10 billion by 2050, our food production will need to nearly double to meet global demands.

The Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute at the University of Nebraska played a leading role in the “Water and Food Security in a Changing World” sessions during the conference, outlining the challenges and most promising solutions for achieving food security while sustaining our freshwater resources.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Water Council produced an official white paper in support of the High Level Panel on Water for Food Security held at the forum. Roberto Lenton, founding executive director of the Water for Food Institute, participated in the panel and was a contributing author to the white paper, “Towards a Water and Food Secure Future: Critical Perspectives for Policy-makers.”

The paper’s authors say the prospect for global food supply between now and 2050 is encouraging, although many people in economically stressed areas will remain food insecure. Substantial public and private-sector investments and policy interventions will be needed, particularly in agriculture, to reduce poverty, increase incomes and ensure food securityfor many of the world’s rural and urban residents.

The report also states that while there may be sufficient water to satisfy the demand for food at the global level, an increasing number of regions will face growing water scarcity, which will impact rural and urban livelihoods, food security and economic activities. Increasing urbanization will impact the volume and quality of water available for agriculture. And, although more people will live in cities, many of the world’s poor will continue to earn their living from agriculture.

According to the paper:

  • Agriculture will continue to be the largest user of water globally, accounting for more than half of withdrawals from rivers, lakes and aquifers and will need to become increasingly efficient.
  • Climate change will require investments in water management adaptations in agriculture.
  • The excessive use and degradation of water resources in key production regions will threaten the sustainability of livelihoods that are dependent on water and agriculture.

The challenges are serious and will take time to address, but there are achievable solutions being developed to provide a more promising future. Some of the solutions in policy development and investment include:

  • Public investments and policies to encourage private investments in technologies and management practices that enhance sustainable production of crops, livestock and fish by both smallholders and large-scale farm producers.
  • Investments in programs that improve risk management in rainfed and irrigated settings.
  • Expanding access to water for domestic and other activities — investing in water, sanitation and health.
  • Creating viable, sustainable off-farm employment opportunities in rural areas.
  • Enhancing the role, equality and success of women in agriculture.

Solutions will also involve water governance, institutions and incentives. The paper states that water institutions must communicate water scarcity conditions to users through transparent allocation mechanisms, pricing, assigning water rights, entitlements and other incentives, as appropriate in each setting, with measures to protect the disadvantaged.

Innovations in water governance will be needed in many areas, partly because of the increasing demand for limited water supplies. This is an area where Nebraskans can share their experiences and successes through the state’s Natural Resources Districts and years of localized water governance and control.

The complete white paper can be read online here.

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