Jan 27, 2015 News
Food price increases and market volatility add to the growing uncertainty about whether and how the world will be able to feed itself in the future.
Food production principally depends on the availability of fresh water and arable land, yet both these resources are becoming increasingly scarce in many parts of the world and may jeopardise food security, according to Global Water Partnership (GWP).
According to Chair, GWP Technical Committee Dr Mohamed Ait-Kadi, the global rush to acquire land and also fresh water that has taken place since 2007 is just one of the manifestations of this intense competition for land and water.
“The inseparable and symbiotic nature of land and water resources for producing food has long been recognised. Land tenure and use practices can significantly influence water availability and quality and, in turn, water availability and quality affect how we use land to produce food.”
The GWP report noted that about 20 percent (12–20 million hectares) of the world’s crop land has degraded over a 25-year period to the point where crop production becomes uneconomic. If current trends persist, 320 million hectares – more than the combined arable land of India and China – will be lost by 2050.
The GWP Technical Committee official describes the growing international competition to control fertile, agricultural land and freshwater water resources as one of the dimensions of the ‘perfect storm’ that is brewing towards 2030 when the crises of food, water, and energy come together to create serious shortages.
But in spite of this recognition, water resources and land use planning and management remain mostly disconnected and are often dealt with by quite separate and disparate institutions.
The international discourse on water resources management over the past 25 years has also largely ignored land issues.
Today, in the water sector, the idea of taking a ‘silo’ or fragmented approach to managing limited and scarce water resources would seem archaic. Integrated water resources management (IWRM) is now well accepted in principle and many countries are now moving towards better coordination and information sharing among multiple sectors and different layers of authority.
Underscoring those past successes also came at a high cost to the natural resource base, the GWP noted that traditional high-performing agricultural regions are facing dwindling groundwater resources and closing river basins, and productivity levels are plateauing.
“There are now growing doubts about whether the yield gains of the past century can be replicated. Doubling agricultural production in the next 30–40 years will require annual crop production to increase by four percent.
Yet the average annual yield increase for key crops, such as maize, rice, wheat, and soybean, is only 0.9–1.6 percent. If current production practices persist, estimates suggest that by 2050 an additional 5,000 km3 of freshwater (blue and green water combined) will be needed to meet global food demands. This is a 70 percent increase on current agricultural water.”
Concerns about the future stem from worries that increasing food production will not keep pace with the additional demands from demographic growth and changing patterns of food consumption. Expanding the area of agricultural land is an option, but this comes with risks of high environmental costs, such as deforestation, higher greenhouse gas emissions, and loss of biodiversity.
At current levels of productivity, more agricultural land will be needed in the future.
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