The Water-Food Nexus

January 25, 2017 - UN, New York
By: Roshan D'Souza

Tackling water scarcity in the context of sustainable development

The keynote speaker, Dr. Pasquale Seduto, FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) Strategic Programs Coordinator of the Near East and North Africa (NENA) gave a presentation on the water-food nexus in the context of sustainable development.

FAO has developed a common vision for sustainable food and agriculture with five strategic objectives:

  1. Help eliminate hunger, food, security and malnutrition
  2. Make agriculture, forestry and fishery more productive and sustainable.
  3. Reduce rural poverty
  4. Enable inclusive and efficient agriculture and food systems
  5. Increasing the resilience of livelihoods to threats and crises

In mapping out these objectives, 15 of the 17 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) will be impacted by water scarcity with focus on goal 6 and food, with focus on goal 2 - zero hunger. There is a strong and inextricable link between food and water. The consumption of water, per person, per day is from 2-4 litres. Domestic usage is 40-400 litres (increases with the use of a swimming pool), and food is 2,000-5,000 litres. Global increase in consumption, with a projected population of 9 billion people by 2050 would be 50% more food and 50% more water. In other words, 1 litre per 1 kilocalorie, 70% for agriculture, 20% industry ad 10% for urban centers. Limited arable land, fresh water, biodiversity and increased population contribute to further water scarcity.

Agriculture, as the largest freshwater user and consumer of all sectors of society (with about 85% withdrawal), needs to boost efficiency and productivity to keep economic and social sustainability. Agriculture contributes 15% of the gross domestic product (GDP) and provides jobs and incomes for about 40% of the population, enabling peace and stability in the NENA region. Some solutions to water scarcity are to augment availability of water by harvesting rainfall, non-conventionally treating water for sanitation and health, desalination of ocean water and re-directing water over transboundary lines. Reduction of food losses can be facilitated through reducing obesity (1,400 million people are overweight and 1.5 billion people are obese), prepared food distribution and promoting sustainable diets.

Moroccan agricultural contribution of 15% of GDP and 40% of employment indicates heavy reliance on rainfall and agriculture, with 70% of small-scale farmers. Arable land uses 85% of water availability, 12% for public support and 3% for industry.

Kazakhstan is a landlocked and water-dependent country with environmental pollution. There is a 50% loss of water from the drying up of rivers and that, together with the shrinking of the Aral seas, is an environmental disaster that affects ecosystems. Water management is needed for 60 million livestock. Two out of three million citizens move to urban areas and cities.

The Water Scarcity Initiative, part of FAO's Strategic Program for sustainable food production, identified NENA as a central priority of Member States to cope with some of their most demanding challenges. They include the expanding gap between availability of and the demand for fresh water, accelerated degradation and depletion of groundwater resources, and prolonged droughts brought about by climate change. Demographic growth, expanding urbanization and demand for higher energy threaten food security. The FAO Program for sustainable food production is engaged in identifying the critical areas that require actions, assisting in the formulation of a regional collaborative strategy and building broad partnerships to support its implementation.