Water and Food Security

At the core of food security is access to healthy food and optimal nutrition. Food access is closely linked to food supply, so food security is dependent on a healthy and sustainable food system. The food system includes the production, processing, distribution, marketing, affordability, and consumption of food. 

Within the context of demographic growth, increased competition for water, and improved attention to environmental issues, water for food remains a core issue that can no longer be tackled through a narrow sectoral approach.

While world population has rapidly increased from 7 billion and rising to over 9 billion by 2050, the use of freshwater for human consumption, agriculture, industry, and other uses has increased six fold. To feed an increasing number of people, food production will have to double but the amount of water and arable land available remains the same.

In addition, climate change and extreme weather events increasingly pose a threat to agricultural systems. Thus, new adaptive forms of water management in agriculture, including rainfed and irrigated agriculture, watershed management, inland fisheries and aquaculture, and livestock and rangeland management need to be explored and implemented in a comprehensive way.

  • Agriculture is the predominant user of water:  In most countries, and with no improvements in land and water productivity, water demand for agriculture is expected to increase more than the current levels of 70% (global average).
  • Changing food consumption patterns: The demand for more food will continue to increase not only because of population growth but as a result of increased incomes and changing consumption patterns that are geared towards consumption of meat and other animal products.
  • Climate change poses additional stress on food production systems: More frequent and severe droughts and floods are already apparent in many regions and this is impacting on the extent and productivity of both irrigated and rainfed agriculture.
  • Governance, institutions and right policies: Food production relys heavily on water, however other factors such as right governance frameworks, improved seeds and inputs, post-harvest handling, energy, and policies (agricultural subsidies and trade policies) all play a critical role in achieving food security.

Consequently, meeting water and food challenges will require dynamic institutions and actions that can balance soil-water use efficiency that results in increased crop and animal productivity, and good agriculture trade policies. Such institutions are required to play an important role in decreasing environmental externalities. In addition, they should provide up-to-date local-level information to enable both public and private sector decision makers to accurately assess and respond to the growing water and food risks.