[ASC-media] Water Scarcity: A Threat to Global Food Supply

Cathy Reade creade at squirrel.com.au
Tue Aug 15 12:28:27 CEST 2006

16 August 2006

Water Scarcity: A Threat to Global Food Supply
Media Statement Issued at the Crawford Fund Annual Conference
"Water for Irrigated Agriculture and the Environment: Finding a Flow for

by Mark Rosegrant
Director of Environment and Production Technology
International Food Policy Research Institute

For hundreds of millions of poor farmers in developing countries, lack of
access to water for growing food is the major constraint they face—and the
situation could get worse. Research by the International Food Policy
Research Institute (IFPRI) shows that if current trends in water policy and
investment do not change for the better, by 2025, water scarcity will cause
annual global losses of 350 million metric tons of food production—slightly
more than the entire current U.S. grain crop.

Declining food supplies could cause prices to skyrocket, leading to
significant increases in malnutrition, since many poor people in developing
countries already spend more than half their income on food.

However, reforms in water policy and investment are not only possible, but
feasible, and could lead to sustainable water use. In addition, increased
investments in crop research, new technologies, rural infrastructure, and
conservation measures could both boost water productivity and increase crop
yields. A number of small-scale technologies and community-level water
management innovations have already emerged in recent years.

Nonetheless, feeding the world’s growing population will largely depend on
irrigation, but increased competition for water will severely limit its
availability for this purpose, which in turn would seriously constrain food
production. Due in part to rapid population growth and urbanization in
developing countries, water use for households, industry, and agriculture is
expected to increase by at least 50 percent in the next 20 years.

Increasing scarcity is mainly due to slow growth in new water supplies,
which in turn is due to the high cost of dams (including environmental and
social costs), irrigation infrastructure, and domestic and industrial water
supply. The extremely rapid rise in demand for domestic and industrial
water, particularly in developing countries, is also a major factor.

For the first time in world history, demand for water for non-agricultural
uses is growing more rapidly than is water demand for agricultural purposes.
A significant amount of the water used by households and industries will be
at the expense of irrigation.

In addition to increased competition for water from other sectors, declining
water quality, falling groundwater tables, and growing environmental demands
for water will continue to negatively affect agricultural production.

Several new challenges and opportunities are also on the horizon for
agriculture-related water management, including explosive growth in
aquaculture production, biotechnology, climate change, and increasing
climate variability—with various environmental consequences.

Given these challenges, and in the absence of policy and investment reform,
environmental needs and food production will be in competition for water in
many parts of the world. Water scarcity could easily get much worse if
national governments and international donors do not change their investment
priorities and commit to fundamental changes in water policies.

However, a crisis is not inevitable. Achieving sustainable water use and
ensuring adequate supplies of and access to water for food production is
possible. Three broad strategies could address the challenge posed to food
security by increasing water scarcity, particularly among the world’s poor:

·	improving crop productivity, with respect to both land and water, through
agricultural research and better policies;
·	increasing the supply of water for irrigation, as well as household and
industrial purposes, through carefully targeted investments in
infrastructure; and
·	conserving water and enhancing its efficient use through improved water
management and policy reform.

But we must act now to adopt and implement these measures. The required
strategies take not only money and political will, but time as well, and
time is of the essence. Water is not like oil. There is no substitute. If we
continue to take it for granted, much of the earth will run short of water
or food—or both.

# # #

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) seeks sustainable
solutions for ending hunger and poverty. IFPRI is one of 15 centers
supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research,
an alliance of 64 governments, private foundations, and international and
regional organizations. Please visit our website at www.ifpri.org.

Further information, photos, additional press releases, the program,
abstracts and bios available at www.crawfordfund.org or contact Cathy Reade,
0413 575 934 creade at squirrel.com.au for interviews

The ATSE Crawford Fund wishes to thanks the sponsors for this event,
Alliance of the CGIAR Centers; AusAID - the Australian Agency for
International Development; Australian Centre for International Agricultural
Research; Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and
Forestry; Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage;
CRC for Irrigation Futures; CSIRO Land and Water; CSIRO Livestock
Industries; Grains Research and Development Corporation; International Water
Management Institute; Land & Water Australia; Murray-Darling Basin
Commission; National Water Commission

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