Maria Helena Semedo
Deputy Director-General, FAO
As water scarcity grows and climate change brings intense droughts and floods, agriculture must forge a new relationship with water to end hunger.
Agriculture is the largest water user, accounting for 72% of global freshwater withdrawals. To meet increased demand for food, feed and fibre by 2050, we will need 35% more water resources. This need comes amid climate change intensification, competition from other sectors, population growth and urbanisation. To reach food security and conserve natural resources, agri-food systems must use and manage water smarter.
Techniques for water efficiency
Globally, irrigated land produces 40% of food from 20% of arable land. Deploying new and traditional techniques — such as drip irrigation and African half-moon ploughing techniques — can significantly boost water efficiency, helping 2.4 billion people in water-stressed countries.
Rainwater harvesting, reuse of treated sewage water and desalination are feasible and scalable options. Equitable access to water requires targeted investments in infrastructure modernisation, institutional restructuring and upgrading the technical capacities of farmers and water managers.
Agriculture is the largest water user, accounting
for 72% of global freshwater withdrawals.
Softening water-related disasters
More than 90% of natural disasters are water-related. Such extreme events are more frequent and intense with climate change; agriculture is often the first victim. Preparing for droughts through early-warning systems enabling proactive responses is vital. Ecosystem restoration to provide buffers against climate extremes is also important.
Meanwhile, floods caused global losses of around USD20 billion in 2021. Ecosystem-based solutions for flood management, agricultural land management, wetland storage and other soil and water conservation can help reduce floods and their impacts.
Integrated land and water management can provide multiple benefits. In Sri Lanka and Zambia, for example, FAO is piloting multifunctional paddy fields for fish and shrimp farming, in addition to rice production. Such value-added infrastructure generates benefits by recharging groundwater, controlling floods and providing ecosystem services while boosting livelihoods.
A blue transformation for water action
As the number of hunger rises and biodiversity dwindles, we must sustainably develop our aquatic food systems through a ‘Blue Transformation,’ which promotes the sustainable intensification of aquaculture and fisheries — and upgrades value chains to address issues such as food loss, waste and wiser water use. Driving water action through sustainable, resilient and equitable agri-food systems will reduce hunger and poverty.