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3 May 2023

Food and water security, goals where collaboration and circular approaches are vital

Photo by Lan Yao / Pexels

Land and water systems are reaching a breaking point, threatening food and water security globally 

At the opening session, Dan Ericsson, State Secretary to the Minister for Rural Affairs and Chair of the Swedish FAO committee, referred to FAO’s 2021 report on the state of the world’s land and water resources for food and agriculture to remind us of the situation we are facing and call for action to address water resources pressure for food and energy production. In the same line, Ismahane Elouafi, Chief Scientist at FAO, echoed these remarks by pointing out how agriculture, as we practice it today, is one of the main causes of water issues and noted that water-related sustainable development goals remain significantly off track. 

“Science innovation and technology can help create new solutions and find smarter ways to produce more with less water” – Ismahane Elouafi 

Cross-sector coordination to make use of untapped opportunities 

“Underline the importance of collaboration at all levels, not only among stakeholders but between sectors”- Dan Ericsson 

Jennie Barron, Professor of water management in agricultural landscapes in the Department of Soil Science and Environment at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), presented examples of how researchers, together with policy and practitioner partners, are re-thinking synergies between agriculture and nutrition outcomes, and building food security under climate change with water storage.  

To exemplify the need for solutions to harmonise nutrition outcomes in agricultural sustainable intensification, she presented the FAO and IFAD “Nutrition-sensitive Agriculture Water Productivity Project” results, evidencing that farmers in countries where agriculture water management projects were implemented, despite having a rich diversity of crops, still reported minimum diversity in their diets. These results indicate that efforts to increase water productivity need to consider improving water consumed (m3/ha) per output yield (kg/ha) and the nutritious value of that production.   

Jennie Barron, Professor of water management in agricultural landscapes in the Department of Soil Science and Environment at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) presentation at the World Water Day 2023 celebration ”Enabling food and water security for all through circularity and collaboration”.

Additionally, to exemplify solutions to build food security under the challenges of climate change, she presented the ICRISAT project, a research and innovation partnership to co-design climate-smart water storage infrastructure for farming systems in Bhundelkand, India, an area with extreme changes in water regimes. The co-designed solutions provided multiple benefits for water storage, food production, diversity of crops and fertilizer application.  

“We need to make sure that our investments into agriculture, our food systems and water resources are working for multiple benefits forward”- Jennie Barron 

Under a similar cross-sectoral approach, Adriana Soto, Research Associate at SEI, presented Bolivia WATCH, an SEI programme, aimed to integrate WASH and Watershed planning to incentivise smarter and more resilient investments. By linking and developing tools for integrated WASH and Watershed planning to support decision-making, and co-identifying potential solutions with local stakeholders, three Watershed Master Plans now include sustainable sanitation solutions with more efficient or no use of water as well as potential benefits for improving rural agriculture productivity through nutrient recovery from sanitation waste (e.g. wastewater or faecal sludge). 

Innovation and circularity of waste to support rural smallholder food systems 

We cannot just harvest resources from productive systems, we need to bring resources back” – Linus Dagerskog 

Linus Dagerskog, Research Fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) presentation at the World Water Day 2023 celebration ”Enabling food and water security for all through circularity and collaboration”.

Linus Dagerskog, Research Fellow at SEI, introduced the concept of productive sanitation, which promotes safe return of nutrients, organic matter, and water from rural sanitation systems. He argued that productive sanitation could contribute to sustain the productivity of small farms and reduce their dependency on commercial fertilisers with volatile prices, prevent the eutrophication of water bodies from nutrient pollution and reduce the pressure on extraction of natural resources. Moreover, in rural areas with shorter distances, less polluted waste, and a self-interest of farmers to maintain soil productivity it is more feasible to apply circular and comprehensive approaches to recycle all major waste flows. With these considerations, in the end, the Clean & Green framework implemented together with Water Aid Burkina Faso, was presented as a part of the efforts to scale productive sanitation by managing risk and resource management at the household and community level, with a double aim of protecting health and obtaining productive benefits. 

Danièle Sebgo, Responsible of Research and Knowledge Management of WaterAid- Burkina Faso and co-author of the Clean and Green discussion brief  shed light on how Clean & Green was tested in 3 pilot villages, including steps to end open defecation using the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approach, triggering workshop on waste resources and sensitisation and training activities. 

Digital knowledge and innovation to improve water management for crop production 

Jippe Hoogeveen, Senior Water Officer, FAO, presentation at the World Water Day 2023 celebration ”Enabling food and water security for all through circularity and collaboration”.

Jippe Hoogeveen, Water Data and Information Team Leader at the Land and Water Division of FAO, presented the innovation behind the WAPOR project (Water Productivity Monitoring through Open Access of Remotely sensed derived data). Given estimates that agricultural production needs to grow by 50% globally by 2050 to feed a growing population, there is a need to produce more food with less water. On the other hand, measuring water use in agriculture is challenging, so satellite remote sensing can help monitor both water use and crop growth (both needed to calculate water productivity) more cost-effectively and at appropriate scales. The WAPOR project consists of freely available satellite data interpreted by open-source models and then stored in the cloud. This information (precipitation, evaporation, biomass, etc.) can be assessed through freely available interfaces by the science community, water users’ associations, practitioners, and the private sector. Data is available in three different spatial resolutions and can be used for various purposes. 

Key takeaways from the seminar 

  • Close collaboration across WASH, agriculture and health sectors is key to achieving SDGs 2 and 6. It requires open-mindedness and respect of each other’s expertise. 
  • The circular economy paradigm shift is an opportunity to promote cross-sectoral approaches. 
  • Knowledge, innovation, and capacity are needed to respond to challenges in managing agricultural water, reaching nutrition outcomes, and managing recovered resources from sanitation. 
  • We need to define and quantify complex issues.  
  • It is important to document and learn from good and bad examples. 
  • We need to be smart and explicit in communicating the benefits of cross-sector approaches as investments are decreasing in the agriculture and WASH sectors. 

Article written by Adriana Soto, Research Associate at SEI Headquarters.

Watch the recording of the webinar below.