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Water Scarcity and Food Security

After engaging workshops during IAAS' World Congress, IAAS is pleased to announce that the first draft of the position paper on Water Scarcity and Food Security proposed and drafted by the Food and Agriculture Youth institute (FAYI) was adopted by the IAAS General Assembly on August 14th:

We acknowledge that:

- Food security is a key challenge the world is facing with the rapidly growing population particularly in Africa and Asia. Disparity in terms of food consumption at the world level is critical, 828 million people are undernourished in the world while one third of the population is obese/overweight;

- 30% of the world’s population lies in water stressed environments. At country or regional levels, disparities on water availability and accessibility can be extremely high;

- The agricultural sector uses around 70% of all fresh-water resources. For example, it takes 1,432 litres of water to produce 1 kg of rice in an irrigated lowland production system. The global average water footprint per ton of crop is respectively 200 m3/ton, 300 m3/ton, 4000 m3/ton, 9000 m3/ton for sugar crops, vegetables, pulses, and nuts. The average water footprint per calorie for beef is 20 times larger than for cereals and starchy roots [1]. The water footprint of meat ranges from 4,300 m3/ton for chicken meat to 15,400 m3/ton of beef meat;

- Climate change is increasingly threatening agricultural systems and increasing extreme weather events such as droughts and unpredictable rain patterns. Climate change affects the availability of water and therefore constitutes a huge threat to marine biodiversity and food production.

We believe that:

- If climate change mitigation and adaptation measures are not implemented, consequences on water and food security will be irreversible;

- Sub-optimal water management in terms of quality and quantity, droughts and salinity are the main anthropogenic and climatic burdens linked to water scarcity to which policies should be directed;

- Unsafe water is not water: water quality is a key component of the water scarcity problem- polluted rivers, lakes and groundwater undermine the use of water for consumers and in agriculture;

- Some issues linked to water scarcity that are worth mentioning are: The prioritisation of potable water for intense irrigation of public and private green surfaces, leisure activities and luxury goods and services (golfing, private swimming pools, products solely focused for export such as avocados). Another issue is the overproduction and overconsumption as well as food waste of agricultural products, especially meat due to the change of dietary patterns;

- Our and future generations are among the most impacted groups by the water and climate crises. We must be included in decision making at all levels linked to climate change, water scarcity and food security;

- Women, youth, and children, in vulnerable and marginalised areas suffer the most from the effects of water scarcity. These effects are further amplified with changing climate and extreme weather events. Women particularly, in many areas of the world, are responsible for their household’s access to clean water and often must transit long distances to retrieve it. The lack of availability of clean drinking water has worsened their situation, causing them more poverty and isolation. In addition, issues such as school dropout or food insecurity remain a critical burden for sustainable development particularly in rural areas.

We call for:

- Strengthening the climate resilience of rainfed cropping systems through (rain)water harvesting methods, soil conservation practices and increasing the water retention rate by improving soil health through crop rotations, mulching, terracing, and reduced or no tillage;

- Increasing the nutrient density per land and water unit of irrigated agriculture, mainly in vulnerable areas;

- Embracing technology in crop production, i.e., using vertical gardens, hydroponics, and high-tech greenhouses if they are less water demanding;

- Following the principles of reduce, reuse, and recycle, implementing measures to prevent and reduce water waste and to recycle water at the industry, farmer and consumer levels prioritising the use of clean energy;

- Reduction and/or elimination of water use for luxury products and activities (swimming pools, irrigation of golf courses, irrigation of low nutritious crops used for export) by promoting a cap-and-trade system for water rights in water-scarce basins targeting luxury products and activities first and by urging governments and intergovernmental organisations to get their priorities right - essentials first, then leisure and luxury;

- Increasing the measures taken to avoid food and water waste on all levels (from producers and farmers to consumers);

- Inter-sectoral and multi-stakeholder involvement, particularly youth groups.

We call the United Nations, its agencies, bodies, and associated institutions to:

- Incorporate the Water-Energy-Food Nexus [2], specifically emphasising food security as a key agenda point on all levels of the UN;

- Develop and propose solutions to member states, by including ideas and innovations of youth groups from civil society. Learning platforms such as the FAO inter-Regional Technical Platform on Water Scarcity (iRTP-WS) must be encouraged, maintained, and continuously updated;

- Hold governments accountable, implement stronger supervision policies or frameworks for member states to work towards sustainable food systems and water management. Inspiration can be taken from the NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions) in the climate policy arena;

- Provide funding for innovation and research in water management in collaboration with the member states and (international) NGOs;

- Solve cross-border problems and prevent water wars, by supporting the capacity of the International Court of Justice to solve these wicked problems.

We call governments to:

- Put sustainable water management and food systems at the core of timely submitted, ambitious, yet realistic NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions), focusing on climate change mitigation as well as adaptation. The NDCs should feature result-based approaches and instruments (predicted to be) used to reach the goals;

- Improve water management at the institutional levels, and hold governmental institutions linked to water accountable for water losses, shortages, and unsustainable policies. In particular, put an end on water monopolies that are distorting the market to the profit of the dominant undertaking instead of benefitting the consumers;

- Support, encourage and guide farmers to shift to less water-intensive crops; - Support farmers in implementing precision agriculture and accessing to technology to allow a better management of resources, reduction of inputs and increase of food production;

- Raise awareness to farmers, consumers, and all stakeholders about the shortage of water, the diversity in the water footprints of food products and what it can imply in the future, including the importance of transitioning to a plant-based diet. Governments should specifically invest in early-stage education on these issues;

- Motivate and support youth to launch businesses with the smallest investment possible and show them best practices, models and success business cases in water management and agriculture;

- Implement reforestation programs to strengthen the resilience of natural ecosystems; - Implement nature-based solutions to solve the water scarcity problem holistically by e.g., creating multifunctional wetlands, harvesting water when abundant to save for dry seasons, implementing irrigation systems for high nutrient density crops and desalination of water for carefully thought purposes;

- Carefully manage and replenish coastal freshwater aquifers to combat salinity issues, support academia in finding more salinity resistant crops and varieties, as well as directing those to farmers;

- Prevent leakage of chemicals from the industry in the seas, rivers, lakes, and groundwater and reduce the use of pesticides and fertilisers contaminating the water; - Prevent water conflicts and solve cross-border issues linked to water considering the right of humans for access to water regardless of their ethnicity or nationality. If problems fail to be solved bilaterally, they should be addressed to the International Court of Justice;

- Strengthen ties with UNECE (Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes) and collaborate internationally to avoid water conflicts. Governments should acknowledge the threat water conflicts are for peacekeeping and the tackling of climate change;

- Support academia and researchers in finding proof and scientific evidence on drought and salinity tolerant varieties and crops. GMOs should be researched as possible way to mitigate the issue with clear proof on their safety issues considering the one health approach (human, animal, and environment health);

- Establish clear strategy plans on reducing food waste with result-based approaches and communicate the results of the strategies to the citizens and through UN channels for cross-border cooperation;

- Strengthening gender equality by promoting women's leadership in the food, agriculture, and water sectors, by granting them access to funding opportunities, and by providing them with capacity building programmes focusing on technical skills as well as soft skills.

We call farmers to:

- Cultivate crops that are best fit to the regional water supply, e.g. grow water intensive crops only in regions with a surplus of water;

- Use water saving techniques such as vertical farming, hydroponics, and high-tech greenhouses whenever available. For some crop varieties (such as rice varieties) that are extremely water consuming, combining aquaculture with those systems can allow a more efficient use of water as well as adding up organic and nutritional benefits for the crops, thus increasing food production;

- Use crop rotations, mulching, terracing, and reduced or no-tillage to increase soil health and water retention of the soils. Specificities of the soils must be thoroughly studied and understood to better comprehend the way the soil uptakes nutrient and water as well as the drainage systems;

- In the areas at high drought and salinity risk, use drought and salinity tolerant crop varieties which have a high nutrient density;

- Prevent water waste, by avoiding overwatering and suffocating crops, by setting daily volume limits for irrigation and for uptaking groundwater, by implementing CSA (Climate Smart Agriculture) practices, by making optimal use of the irrigation methods available and shifting towards water saving irrigation systems and by using weather data to predict sowing dates for timely and efficient use of rainwater.

We call scientific communities to:

- Increase research on technologies and provide scientific evidence for topics such as water reclamation, water recycling, desalination, and other innovative practices to secure and increase water availability and food security (promote (new) nutrient dense products with low water footprint);

- Make research and scientific evidence available for public use, to ensure spread of knowledge on best water management practices;

- Close the gap of disconnect between the scientific community [3] and large water users by actively engaging in public dialogues;

- Develop low tech solutions, to minimise waste of energy and guarantee that these practices can be reproduced regardless of the economic background of the country/farmer;

- Provide more scientific evidence on the (potential) advantages and disadvantages of GMOs to provide drought and salinity resistance varieties.

We call consumers to:

- Adopt a plant-based diet as livestock production is highly water consuming; - Avoid wasting food and water by implementing water conservation, recycling and waste prevention methods in all levels (e.g., containers to collect rainwater, composting, investing in storing facilities, using water-saving tools for personal and household cleaning, buying only what is needed for household consumption);

- Eat food products produced locally and avoid exported ones, particularly fruits and vegetables which have been produced under irrigation in a water-scarce context; - Raise awareness in every house and be responsible for every drop we use and waste, implement context-specific alternatives to highly water consuming goods and tools.

We call young people and youth-led groups to:

- Raise awareness on the water scarcity and food security issues through in-person and online workshops, on social media and through any possible means;

- Start youth-led projects and businesses in rural areas, focusing on resilient farming systems, particularly highlighting best practices in water management and sustainable food production and communicate the results (e.g., the IAAS Village Concept Projects);

- Be more involved in UN processes and negotiations, by engaging at Climate Conferences (COP), regional UN meetings and wherever relevant and possible;

- Engage through networks of youth umbrella organisations (e.g., IAAS and YPARD) to exchange knowledge and experiences and to learn from one another;

- Communicate engagement opportunities, such as grants, events, or projects to youth across the world from all regions particularly in issues linked to climate change, water, and food security.

We urge all stakeholders to develop pathways for youth empowerment in Water-Energy Food Nexus by:

- Developing new funding opportunities and schemes for youth, through public and private grants, sponsorships, loans at local, national, and international levels so that they can create businesses, innovative projects, participate in decision making processes (e.g., climate negotiations to present statements and calls to action);

- Conducting thorough and exhaustive needs assessments for youth in vulnerable, marginalised and water-scarce areas and channelling the results to governments and decision makers;

- Providing capacity building and educational programmes for youth entrepreneurs dealing with food production and water management that should not only focus on technical skills, but also on soft skills and management to ensure efficiency, professionalism, and higher productivity;

- Training youth trainers: Trained young coaches in water management and sustainable food production would allow an easier and efficient peer-to-peer information flow from young person to young person;

- Creating more learning opportunities on water scarcity adapted to local constraints (e.g., FAO inter-Regional Technical Platform on Water Scarcity (iRTP-WS)); - Encouraging young people to engage in youth groups and umbrella organisations of youth focusing on food, agriculture and water and empowering them by supporting their innovative projects and ideas.

IAAS commits to continue implementing actions to tackle the water scarcity issue in its relationship with food and agriculture through:

- Village Concept Projects or VCPs: Creating and accelerating these youth led development projects in rural areas from the global south and focusing on the resilience of the farming systems, livelihoods and communities associated with these projects;

- Global Projects (GP): Women in Agriculture GP for reducing the gender gap in agriculture by empowering women-led projects in rural areas. No Food Waste GP that includes different initiatives such as challenges, campaigns and small-scale projects that aim to reduce the food waste;

- Under the umbrella of FAYI (Food and Agriculture Youth Institute), engaging through youth-led think tanks and working groups to solve the pressing environmental issues including water scarcity and food security, e.g., IAAS Adaptation think tank and IAAS Think Tank on Food Security towards Zero Hunger;

- Building the capacity of youth in agriculture, particularly members of IAAS around the world through our exchange program (for technical and hard skills) and other educational programs such as soft skill trainings and workshops delivered by ITC (IAAS Training Committee);

- Raising awareness and sharing knowledge in the form of podcasts, interviews, social media campaigns, scientific events, exchange weeks and challenges. E.g., The topic for the annual World Congress in 2022 was water scarcity and its effects on food security;

- Actively participating in the UN negotiations linked to water, climate change, food, and agriculture (e.g., our participation at the climate conferences and in the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture Negotiations) by drafting statements, position papers and calls to action during our international gatherings;

- Actively seeking the collaboration of partners to invest in youth-led projects and initiatives.

References and Notes:

  1. Mekonnen, M.M. and Hoekstra, A.Y. (2010) The green, blue and grey water footprint of farm animals and animal products, Value of Water Research Report Series No. 48, UNESCO-IHE, Delft, the Netherlands.
  1. The Nexus approach highlights the interdependence of water, energy and food security and natural resources – water, soil, and land – that underpin that security.
  1. Scientific communities refer here to universities, academia and researchers working in food science, agriculture, and water management.

This position paper is also published by IAAS. Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

The International Association of Students in Agricultural and Related Sciences (IAAS) is the largest student organization in agriculture, with over 10.000 students from over 50 nations sending a delegation to COP27.

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