Why Food System Transformation Needs Water

A farmer with his young turmeric crops in Tamil Nadu, India. Credit: Hamish John Appleby / IWMI

By Dr. Mark Smith
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Oct 19 2020 – The impact of Covid-19 on supply chains and food security has dealt a blow to the already faltering global development ambition of ending hunger.

More than ever, as the global population continues growing, we need to find a way to produce sufficient nutritious food for all. But with the world suffering from degraded ecosystems and facing climate change, the question is how?

Water is a critical component of food systems, from production through to consumption. And, with food security and the health of both people and ecosystems each dependent on water, our future food systems must be underpinned by a ‘systems-based’ approach to water management too.

What would a future food system that safeguards the world’s water systems and services look like? During production, farmers would withdraw less water from nature than at present but successfully produce more food with it.

They would focus their efforts in locations that have sufficient water resources to bear the burden. And the water that drains from their fields would be less polluted, because they would use fewer fertilizers and pesticides, and apply those they do need safely.

On the consumption side, everyone would have access to safely managed drinking water and sanitation services, helping them to live healthier lives and suffer less from water-borne diseases, to benefit from the nutritious food they eat, and to prosper.

Thus, the human right to water supply and sanitation is integral to successful food systems too.

How do we arrive at this future scenario? What will it take to transform food and water systems in this way? Enhancing production from the water used in agriculture – even by a small amount – could significantly alleviate water stress if water savings are available for use in other sectors or returned to nature.

Reliable data is critical: it can show how much water is available, where that water is being used, and if water productivity is low or high. And many innovative approaches and technologies are being developed that can assist farmers to grow more food with less water and fewer chemicals.

Delivering water for hygiene and sanitation (WASH), while meeting the needs of agriculture and other uses, demands careful management and collaboration between WASH providers, and other water and environmental agencies.

The ‘Multiple Use Water Services’ approach, rolled out by IWMI in more than 30 countries, exemplifies the kind of joined-up effort that is required. MUS systems are designed from the outset to provide water for diverse uses from fishing to cooking and can help communities to allocate water resources more effectively and equitably.

Taking a water-systems approach will also help us to manage risks from water-related disasters, such as floods and droughts, and build resilience to climate change.

This might involve extending irrigation to rainfed farmers to help them overcome dry spells, providing smallholders with drought- or moisture-tolerant seeds so they can maintain a good yield even when a season delivers unseasonably dry- or wet conditions, or using insurance to transfer risk in the case of an extreme weather event.

Our work in India and Bangladesh shows that taking such measures can help farmers overcome climate shocks and quickly return to producing food.

Around the world, farms of less than two hectares account for 28–31% of global crop production. We have to ensure that the poorest in society are not left behind, and that women farmers or tenant smallholders without land and water rights of their own benefit too. Women alone make up 43 per cent of the agricultural labor force globally and in developing countries.

Transforming food systems calls for collaboration between a wide range of actors, working at scales from farmer’s fields to global initiatives. We must not forget, for example, the energy sector that is involved in powering irrigation or the finance providers needed to help farmers buy seed or insure their crops against floods.

And with food production connecting people, nature and economy in complex ways, we must be mindful of trade-offs when adopting particular strategies.

Ultimately, we need to address weak and fragmented governance within water management. This is because institutions that can accelerate water productivity gains in agriculture, deliver safe water to people, reduce risks from floods and droughts, and sustainably manage water-rich ecosystems, are fundamental to successfully changing food systems for the better.

Ensuring our future global population is well-nourished calls for action on food production, climate change, health and biodiversity loss – and water flows through them all.


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NESFAS Partner Communities Celebrate World Food Day

World Food Day celebration at Pyngkya, East Khasi Hills

By Damica M Mawlong
Oct 19 2020 (IPS-Partners)

World Food Day, a day dedicated to tackle world hunger, is annually celebrated on October 16, 2020 globally. To commemorate this day, the North East Slow Food and Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS) along with its partner organisations — Society for Urban and Rural Empowerment (SURE) and North East Network (NEN), Nagaland — hosted several programmes across 27 communities in Meghalaya and Nagaland. It may be mentioned here that all government SOPs and measures were followed during the events.

In his message from Rome, NESFAS chairman and coordinator of The Indigenous Partnership, Phrang Roy said, “As we celebrate the World Food Day with our 130 indigenous partner communities of North East India and as we work to ‘grow, nourish and sustain, together’, let us remind ourselves that in areas where our traditional culture, our oral traditions, our living in balance with nature and with each other have been upheld, we have prospered.” He added, “ This World Food Day is therefore an opportunity for us, as indigenous peoples, to show and tell to our national and international leaders that our traditional indigenous food systems and our biological and cultural diversity are crucial instruments for a more caring and sustainable world.”

Keeping in mind the theme for this year’s celebration — Grow, Nourish, Sustain. Together — at Pyngkya (East Khasi Hills), community members hosted a Food Group treasure hunt for the children wherein the participants were divided into three groups. The children were then sent to the nearby forest and cultivation fields, along with adults, to forage the 10 food groups under one hour.

In Khweng and Madanrtiang (Ri-Bhoi), Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) and Agroecology Learning Circle (ALC) members organised a drawing competition for children at their respective communities. An Agrobiodiversity (ABD) competition was also held where community members were asked to identify the different food plants at their communities. In the evening, a few Anganwadi workers along with some of the ALC members held an awareness programme and spoke about the importance to conserve agrobiodiversity and local foods.

Agrobiodiversity Hunt in Madanrtiang, Ri-Bhoi

To instill the importance of local foods in children, community members of Laitthemlangsah, Nongwah, Dewlieh, (all under East Khasi Hills), Umwang Nongbah, Khliehumstem (Ri-Bhoi) and Mawlum Mawjahksew (West Khasi Hills), held drawing competitions under various food-related themes. However, Mawhiang, Lad Mawphlang, Laitsohpliah and Laitumiong community members hosted indigenous cooking competitions throughout the day.

Indigenous Food Cooking Competition at Mukhap, West Jaintia Hills

The NESFAS team in Garo Hills, marked the occasion in Samingre, West Garo Hills along with other partner communities — Darichikgre, Daribokgre and Durakantragre — where in the community facilitators took part in a seed-exchange programme. The programme also included sharing of knowledge on the importance of the Indigenous Food Systems by the CFs from Darichikgre, Daribokgre and Durakantragre. Chenxiang R Marak, Associate of NESFAS (Garo Hills) said, “The CFs also spoke about the importance of seeds and right after that, there was an exchange of seeds between these four communities. These are all traditional and local seeds that were exchanged to ensure seed sovereignty.” The Samingre Self Help Groups also sold fresh local vegetables and value added products at the venue.

Indigenous Food Cooking compeition at Sasatgre

NEN, on the other hand, organised a cooking competition for rural youth at the NEN Resource Centre at Chizami, Phek District, Nagaland under this year’s theme. The event brought together 65 participants, mostly youth members from Chizami and neighbouring villages. The focus of the programme was to bridge the growing gap between young people and local food systems. It is an attempt to help the youth understand the significance of local food, rediscover and appreciate traditional recipes, explore and exchange innovative recipes using local ingredients.

World food day celebrations at Cham Cham, East Jaintia Hills

Three partner communities of SURE on the other hand celebrated the day hosting an essay competition and a recitation competition in Cham Cham (Jaintia Hills), an ABD walk in Thangbuli and a indigenous food cooking competition in Mukhap. Participants were only allowed to cook indigenous meals using traditional and local ingredients only.