FAO urges sustainability over immediate profits to safeguard water supplies

By Caroline SCOTT-THOMAS contact

- Last updated on GMT

Pollution and water overconsumption for food production are largely to blame for water scarcity, the FAO says
Pollution and water overconsumption for food production are largely to blame for water scarcity, the FAO says

Related tags: Food production, Food security, Agriculture

Water is likely to be sufficient for food production in 2050 – but increased competition means two-thirds of the world will be affected by water scarcity, according to a joint report from the FAO and the World Water Council.

The report, Towards a Water and Food Secure Future​, urges both the private and public sectors to invest in sustainable food production that also protects water supplies.

“Food and water security are inextricably linked,” ​said president of the World Water Council Benedito Braga. "…The essence of the challenge is to adopt programmes that involve investments in longer-term returns, such as the rehabilitation of infrastructure. Agriculture has to follow the path of sustainability and not the one of immediate profitability.”

Such programmes could include improving water storage facilities, wastewater capture and reuse, and research to reduce water use in agriculture, the report said.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), food production will need to increase by 60% by 2050 to feed a global population of about nine billion – and by up to 100% in developing countries. It predicts that agriculture will continue to be the biggest user of water, but it will need to become more efficient in order to meet increasing demand.

“In an era of accelerated changes unparalleled to any in our past, our ability to provide adequate, safe and nutritious food sustainably and equitably is more relevant than ever,” ​said FAO deputy director-general Natural Resources, Maria Helena Semedo. “Water, as an irreplaceable element of achieving this end, is already under pressure by increasing demands from other uses, exacerbated by weak governance, inadequate capacities, and underinvestment.”

Despite the report’s assertion that water is likely to be sufficient for producing enough food on a global level in 2050, water scarcity affects some regions more than others, currently affecting more than 40% of the world’s population, according to the FAO. It predicts that competing demand from cities and industry will reduce the availability of water for agriculture, meaning even more regions will be affected, and two-thirds of the world’s population by 2050.

It says that this situation is largely due to overconsumption of water for food production and agriculture and water pollution as a result of intensive agriculture, industrialisation and fast-growing cities.

The full report is available to download here​.

Related topics: Policy, Sustainability

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