Food Security: FAO calls for better water resources management

The FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said Monday at the World Water Week that "there is no food security without water security”.
He added that agriculture, as practiced today, is one of the causes of this phenomenon, as it represents 70% of all freshwater uses.
According to FAO, drought in some parts of the world has hurt global grain production and contributed to food price spikes virtually every other year since 2007 and adds that the situation calls for the need to transform the way water is used - and wasted - throughout the entire food chain.

FAO's recent report, The State of Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture, warns that water scarcity and pollution are posing a growing risk to key food production systems around the world.

FAO’s call comes in the wake of the recent warning by the humanitarian agencies that m
ore than 15 million people in the Sahel region of West Africa face starvation due to drought. They point out that the combined effects of poor weather conditions - including severe heat and low rainfall - with poor governance and low levels of infrastructure to handle extreme shifts in the climate - have placed millions of lives at risk.
"Agriculture holds the key to sustainable water use," said Graziano da Silva. To achieve that and meet the world's growing demand for food, "we need to produce in a way that conserves water, uses it more sustainably and intelligently, and helps agriculture adapt to climate change" he added.

Toward that end, FAO is proposing a new framework for water management in agriculture: Coping with water scarcity: An action framework for agriculture and food security.

FAO's framework stresses in particular the importance of the following areas where policy and action should focus:

Modernisation of irrigation: age-old canal irrigation schemes need to be modernized to respond to the needs of tomorrow's farmers, allow for the more efficient use of water and increase productivity. Future irrigation will increasingly be piped irrigation and combine different sources of water, including groundwater, in a sustainable way.

Better storage of rainwater at farm level:
by storing water in small ponds or directly in the ground, farmers can reduce drought-related risks and increase productivity.

Recycling and re-using:
water re-use, in particular treated wastewater from urban centers, can play an important role for agricultural production in arid areas. A more systematic way of safely using such water can boost local production.

Pollution control:
better water quality regulations, together with effective enforcement mechanisms, needs to be put in place to reduce water pollution, which aggravates water scarcity.

Substitution and reduction of food waste: agricultural policies must consider the potential that rainfed production still offers in many places, and seek a much more integrated combination of irrigated and rainfed farming.

At the same time, the reduction of post-harvest losses must be part of any water scarcity coping strategy. Of all food produced globally, 30 percent - the equivalent of 1.3 billion tons - is lost or wasted every year along the value chain from field to fork. Reducing these losses go a long way towards reducing pressuring on natural resources that are essential to food production, like soils and water.

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