Some thoughts on World Water Day 2012, the theme of Water and Food Security, and what it means for the Caribbean, from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Sub-Regional Coordinator for the Caribbean, Florita Kentish.
On March 22, 2012 we celebrate World Water Day (WWD). This year’s theme is Water and Food Security. Agriculture is the biggest consumer of water globally, accounting for over 70% of total available freshwater used. Industrial water is the second largest consumer (22%) followed by domestic water (8 %).
In the Caribbean, the percentage of water consumed by the agriculture sector ranges from over 70% in countries like Jamaica, Guyana and Belize, to as low as 6% in Trinidad and Tobago.
Water crucial for Food Security
Water and Food Security are inextricably linked. Food Security exists when all people at all times have both physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs for an active and healthy life. Water is essential for Food Security. It is a necessary input in crop and livestock production, rangeland management, inland fisheries, and aquaculture.
Clean water is needed for agro-processing, food safety and good nutrition. Erratic rainfall and seasonal differences in water availability can also cause food shortages while floods and droughts may even result in food emergencies. People who have better access to water tend to have lower levels of undernourishment. Furthermore, the lack of water can be a major cause of famine and undernourishment, particularly in areas where people depend on agriculture for food and income.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has estimated that in the last century, water use has been growing at twice the rate of population growth. With the world’s population at 7 billion and expected to increase to 9 billion by 2050, we would need 70% more food for global food security.
Moreover, the Global Environmental Outlook predicts that by the year 2025 water withdrawals will increase by 50% in developing countries and by 18% in developed countries. This has serious implications for all countries, but especially for water scarce countries such as Barbados and Antigua and Barbuda, where water supplies are stretched to the limit. This situation is likely to be further exacerbated by climate change, with sea level rise, increasing temperatures, salinization of groundwater supplies, and more extreme weather events such as droughts, hurricanes and floods likely to result in reduced water availability in the Caribbean.
Food wastage leads to high water loss
Food wastage is an often overlooked and significant source of water loss. Approximately 30% of the food produced worldwide – about 1.3 billion tons – is lost or wasted every year. In many developing countries, large shares of production are lost between farmers’ fields and the market because of poor storage and transportation facilities. Consumers in developed and some developing countries also waste food by their excessive consumption.
The challenge for the agriculture sector is, therefore, to produce more and better quality food while using less water per unit output; to reduce water loss; to provide rural people with resources and opportunities to live a healthy and productive life; apply clean technologies that ensure environmental sustainability and contribute to the local and national economy.
FAO has been working with Caribbean governments to meet this challenge by providing technical assistance and policy advice and by sharing knowledge and information. Achievements to date include:
- Establishment of 11 pilot rainwater harvesting and small scale irrigation demonstrations, including the use of solar pumps in Jamaica
- Development of a methodology for determining areas where rainwater harvesting is feasible and generation of maps using GIS to locate those areas in Jamaica
- Water policy and integrated water resources management plan and legislation for Grenada
- Development of irrigation and drainage policy and strategic plan for Belize
- Development of Water Information System in St Lucia and Grenada
In collaboration with the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, FAO also trained Caribbean farmers and extension officers in rainwater harvesting. FAO also trained farmers in irrigation and drainage technologies, as well as the operation and maintenance of irrigation equipment. In January 2012, FAO, in collaboration with CDB, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre and the Caribbean Water Initiative project assisted representatives from 18 Caribbean countries in preparing road maps to develop or improve their Disaster Risk Management Plans for hurricanes, floods and droughts in the Agriculture Sector.
Produce more food with less water
Producing more food with less water requires an integrated approach as well as a concerted effort by all stakeholders in the water sector. Those working in agriculture are urged to improve on-farm water management (more crop per drop), improve the performance of irrigation services, augment the supply of water through the use of non-conventional waters (drainage water), and use water resources of marginal quality such as recycled wastewater and brackish water. Water harvesting, integrated watershed management, promoting national policies such as water allocation to agriculture and trade in the potential of virtual water are additional strategies which could be applied. We should also reduce food wastage by improving post harvest practices. Finally, we should all, as consumers, change our attitudes towards waste by eating healthily, not over-eating and buying only the food we need. Throwing food away needlessly is not acceptable.
On World Water Day 2012 let us reflect more deeply on how we in the Caribbean – whether as consumers, agriculture workers, innovators or policy makers – can take steps to reduce food wastage, innovate technologies to limit water wastage in food production, and be champions for the preservation of this most precious resource.
Previously on Green Antilles: World Water Day 2012.