Leaders call for global action to reduce food waste, boost investment in the water sector

Global leaders have 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. At a meeting for the 2012 World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden, the over two thousand politicians, CEOs, scientists and leaders of international organisations from more than 100 nations said more than one-fourth of all the water used 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,” said Torgny Holmgren, Executive Director of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI).

Today, over 900 million people suffer from hunger, and two billion more face serious health risks from undernourishment. At the same time, 1.5 billion people overeat and over one-third of all food is lost or wasted. Demand for food and fibre is projected to increase by 70 per cent by mid-century and, without intervention, untenable pressure on water resources in many regions in the world will threaten food and water security.

“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,” he added. 

In the over 100 sessions set to take place throughout the week, the convening experts will debate and showcase solutions to ensure that the planets limited water resources can meet the needs of growing economies and support a healthy global population.
They will also discuss the latest innovations and successful practices to provide clean water and safe sanitation to the over two billion people who live without sustainable access to these basic services. Half of the cases of malnutrition worldwide result from illness and infection from dirty water or unhygienic sanitation. 

Participants at the week will also deliberate on issues countries leasing foreign land for agricultural production, trade, human rights, climate change, and the inter-linkages between food, water and energy production. The International Water Resource Economics Consortium (IWREC) will host a Chief Economist Panel debate on how to use economic policy instruments to manage water more efficiently.

“The numbers show that agriculture is a thirsty activity. But that also means that agriculture holds the key to sustainable water use,” said José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). He added that investment in smallholder farmers is critical to achieve food and water security for all people.

“Throughout the world, 2.6 billion small-scale producers till the land, raise animals and fish. They are the main providers of food in the developing world. If we want them to produce more sustainably, preserving natural resources, adapting to and contributing to the mitigation of climate change, we need to help them. We cannot expect them to do it alone.”

“Feeding over 9 billion people by 2050 is possible, but we have to reflect on the cost to the environment in terms of water withdrawals and land resources. Furthermore it will put phenomenal pressure on ecosystem services on which our society depends. Saving water by reducing food waste, increasing productivity, plant breeding and waste water recycling are critical to all of us,” said Dr. Colin Chartres, Director-General of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the 2012 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate.

During the week, H.M. King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden will present the Stockholm Water Prize to the International Water Management Institute, IWMI, for their work to improve agriculture water management, enhance food security, protect environmental health and alleviate poverty in developing countries. Other prizes that will be presented during the week are the Stockholm Junior Water Prize – which is given to one national team from 27 competing nations, and the Stockholm Industry Water Award, which will be presented this year to PepsiCo for their efforts to reduce water consumption in their operations and to help solve water challenges on a broad scale.

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