Food and Water Security are Inextricably Linked

MarketThe theme of the World Water Day 2012 is “Water and Food Security: The World is Thirsty Because We are Hungry”, and it is celebrated worldwide today on 22 March.

Without water security, there will be no food security. Producing enough food for one person for one day requires about 3,000 litres of water – or about 1 litre per calorie. When compared with the 2–5 litres required for drinking, it is clear that water for food production is a critical issue as populations and wealth grow.

Progress in enhancing food security has been slow and seriously undermined by the drastic rise in world prices from 2007 to mid-2008 and the global financial crunch which unfolded in the second half of 2008. The number of hungry people in the world rose by more than 115 million, bringing the total number of people suffering from chronic hunger to more than one billion people or 15% of the world population. Social unrest occurred in a number of countries and cities. This is an early warning sign of what is to come, possibly on much larger scale, in the event of future food shortages.

Distrust in markets, pressure on natural resources, and the re-examination of the “merits” of selfsufficiency have led many countries to start rebuilding their national stocks and investing in agriculture in other countries to secure supplies. Large-scale acquisitions of farmland in Africa, Latin America, Central Asia and South East Asia have made headlines in a flurry of media reports across the world.

For people in recipient countries, this new context may create opportunities for economic development and livelihood improvement in rural areas. But, in the absence of a code of conduct, it may also result in local people losing access to the land and water resources on which they depend for their food and water security.

In addition to this “hunger for land” and “thirst for water,” global agriculture will have to cope with the burden of climate change whose likely impacts have been documented in great detail in many reports. Most of them conclude that the global food production potential is expected to contract severely, yields of major crops like wheat and maize may fall globally and prices for the most important crops – rice wheat, maize and soybeans – may rise. In addition, severe weather occurrences such as droughts and floods are likely to intensify and cause greater crop and livestock losses. Increasing food insecurity might lead to more competition over water resources, migration, difficulties of supplying cities and ultimately state failures and international conflicts.

Some 60 percent of agriculture in developing countries is rain-fed. Rain-fed agriculture has a considerable untapped production potential. Irrigated agriculture, the source of much of the additional food needed, must in addition be modernised. Divergent perceptions of irrigation – on the one hand essential for food production, on the other a wasteful and polluting water user – must be reconciled.

Institutional structures, cost recovery, subsidies, and operation and maintenance systems all affect water use efficiency and productivity. Increased water productivity in agriculture is a key element in achieving both water and food security. Concerted action to achieve more crop productivity from every drop of water used for agriculture is essential. However, production is only part of the story. Food security in many countries will increasingly depend on food trade. This is a highly political and complex international issue that needs to be given urgent attention and needs to include the critical linkage to water security. The trade–food–water nexus and virtual water are significant issues in water for food production. The drive towards food security will have a better chance of success if the water security challenge is addressed.

GWP reports and more information.

Case studies, reference material and tools related to food security in the GWP IWRM ToolBox.

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About globalwaterpartnership

The Global Water Partnership's vision is for a water secure world. Our mission is to advance governance and management of water resources for sustainable and equitable development.
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