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WATER & Food Production

Because water is essential for all life on Earth, the Environment Committee feels the Target Program should focus on increasing the supply of safe and secure water globally.  In doing this, many of the other global projects that FAWCO supports will also be impacted.  In an effort to inform our members about how water affects all aspects of life, we are providing a series of articles illustrating how water connects to other challenging issues.  The first article sent out in May discussed how important water is in general. This article addresses how the water supply is connected to food production globally.  Without a safe, secure and adequate water supply, we will not have adequate food.  This issue must be addressed in an organized and global manner to be effectively solved.  The UN recognizes the importance of resolving water supply issues and is sponsoring the initiative, Water for Life Decade, www.un.org/waterforlifedecade. Also, one of the UN Millennium Development Goals is reduce by 2015, half of the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water.  Below are some important details regarding how water supply and food production are interdependent.

  • Water covers 71% of the Earth's surface, it is found mostly in oceans as salt water.
  • Clean, fresh drinking water is essential to human and other life forms on the planet Earth.
  • Water is a major factor in human development.
  • Water is central to photosynthesis (plants, trees, etc.) and respiration.
  • Some experts have estimated that by 2025 more than ½ of the world population will be facing water-based vulnerability.
  • The World health Organization (WHO), estimates that safe water could prevent 1.4 million child deaths each year.
  • Climate change will also impact water supplies and increase the expansion of subtropical deserts.
  • As population and development increase, the demand for ground & fresh water for domestic, agricultural (food supply) & industrial sectors will increase. This will intensify the pressure on water resources, leading to tensions, conflicts among users, & excessive pressure on the environment. 
  • In most countries, the agriculture sector (food supply) is the predominant consumer of water. It accounts for 70% of all water use globally and up to 95% in several developing countries.
  • To keep pace with the growing demand for food, it is estimated that 14% more freshwater will need to be used for agricultural purposes in the next 30 years.
  • There is a close relationship between fair and equitable access for the most vulnerable people to basic livelihood assets (including land and water) for domestic and productive uses. If this access is present, it contributes to the eradication of poverty and hunger in rural areas
  • In many cases, irrigated agriculture (food supply) has been a major engine for economic growth and poverty eradication.
  • Adding to the pressures on agricultural use is the increased awareness of the instrumental value of water in maintaining environmental services and ecosystem resilience.
  • Increasing the efficiency of water use and enhancing water productivity at all levels in the food supply production chain is becoming a priority in a rapidly growing number of countries.
  • Multiple factors interact with food production, an area that governments could change is to subsidize water projects, tree planting projects & plant diversity projects, rather than subsidizing biofuel production.
  • Future food security depends on 4 agricultural resources: cropland, water, rangeland and stabilizing the earth's climate system.
  • Food security is affected by water availability.

Hopefully it is clear that water and food production are innately connected with each other: two sides of the same coin. Here are 2 examples of projects that successfully deal with water and food.

The elderly women of many rural Zulu communities in rural South Africa practice subsistence agriculture to support the children under their care. This requires much manual labor from the grandmothers and also takes time away from other daily activities, such as educating the children. The ram pump offers a low-cost, low-maintenance solution, using the hydraulic power of flowing streams to deliver irrigation water to these community gardens year round. Recognizing the need and tremendous benefit of the ram pump irrigation system, an organization called EWB-JHU initiated the South Africa Project and implemented four total community irrigation systems in the past two summers. The implementation team visited the work sites the year after their completion and was astonished by the tremendous progress seen at the gardens irrigated with the ram pump systems! Not only had the crop yield increased, but the nutritional diet and general well being of the communities was greatly improved as well.

In Ethiopia, the goal of the Tigray Project is to improve the productivity of the land in marginal areas belonging to poor farmers and rehabilitate their environments. Much effort has been made to include households headed by women in the project because these are generally among the poorest of the poor in their villages. The program promotes a compost making "package" with numerous positive effects. The resulting compost is used to improve the quality of the soil and resulted in: yields as good as and often better than those using chemical fertilizer, maintaining or increasing agro-biodiversity, reduced weed loads in composted fields and an increased moisture retention capacity of the soil. Plants grown with compost are more resistant to pest and disease than crops treated with chemical fertilizer and compost has a residual effect on soils; farmers do not need to apply compost each year. Farmers have been able to get out of debt from buying chemical fertilizer and foods made from composted grain have a better flavor than foods made from crops treated with chemical fertilizer. A win-win-win-win situation!

Watch for more water news in September: Water and Women's issues

Beth Molnar, AWC Hamburg & Mary Kent AWO Moscow

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