Guess how much water your daily food consumes

Guess how much water your daily food consumes

Growing water scarcity is one of the main challenges for sustainable development, and it will surely worsen as the world's population continues to grow and climate change intensifies.

The facts are clear. It takes one to three tons of water to produce one kilogram of cereal and up to 15 tons to produce one kilogram of meat. It is estimated that to produce a person's daily food, it takes between 2,000 and 5,000 liters of the resource.

Growing water scarcity is one of the main challenges for sustainable development, and it will surely worsen as the world's population continues to grow and climate change intensifies.

The competition for water will increase as the planet's population exceeds 9 billion people around 2050.

In fact, millions of farming families in poor countries suffer from lack of access to fresh water, and conflicts over water resources already outnumber those over land in some regions, said José Graziano da Silva, director general of the Organization of the United Nations for Food and Agriculture (FAO), at the World Forum for Food and Agriculture that took place from 19 to 21 this month in Berlin.

Furthermore, climate change is already altering hydrological regimes everywhere, he added, citing estimates that some 1 billion people in dry regions - with a high concentration of extreme poverty and hunger - could endure growing water shortages in a Next future.

“Agriculture is both a cause and a major victim of water scarcity. Agriculture accounts for about 70 percent of freshwater withdrawals in the world today, and it also contributes to water pollution due to pesticides and chemicals, ”Da Silva noted.

To overcome the situation, the international community agreed that one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) would be dedicated exclusively to water, and integrated better management of this key natural resource into the entire framework of the SDGs, said the FAO director. .

Da Silva urged participants in Berlin to promote ways to use less water and more efficiently, and to take steps to ensure access, especially for poor farm families.

"Doing so will not prevent a drought from occurring, but it can help prevent droughts from resulting in hunger and socioeconomic disruption," he said.

One third of food lost or wasted

Da Silva also indicated that reducing food waste plays an important role in a more judicious use of water. He explained that each year a third of the food we produce is lost or wasted, which translates into a volume of wasted agricultural water equivalent to three times the size of Lake Geneva.

At the last United Nations Conference on Climate Change, FAO presented a global framework to address water scarcity in agriculture to support those efforts, added Da Silva.

The framework seeks to facilitate the development and implementation of policies and programs for the sustainable use of water in agriculture and foster cooperation among different stakeholders, including civil society, the private sector, financial institutions, and development organizations.

The World Forum for Food and Agriculture, organized by the German Federal Ministry for Food and Agriculture, is held every year and brings together high-level decision-makers, technical experts, researchers and farmers to discuss urgent issues affecting the farming.

The theme of this year's Forum was “Agriculture and water: keys to feeding the world”.

In fact, it is so important to feeding the world that FAO projects that irrigation water production will increase by more than 50 percent by 2050, but the amount of water withdrawn by agriculture can only increase by 10 percent, if the water is improved. irrigation practices and yields.

The world contains about 1,400 million cubic kilometers of water. But only 0.003 percent of this amount, about 45,000 cubic kilometers, are "fresh water resources" that can be used for drinking, hygiene, agriculture and industry.

The use of wastewater in agriculture

It is time to stop treating wastewater as garbage and instead manage it as a resource that can be used for crops and help address water scarcity in agriculture, FAO urged.

Wastewater can be used safely to support crop production directly through irrigation or indirectly through aquifer recharge, but this requires diligent management of health risks through proper treatment or use.

How countries approach the problem and the latest trends in the use of wastewater in agriculture was a central theme at the World Forum for Food and Agriculture in Berlin.

"Although there is no more detailed data on the practice, we can say that, globally, only a small proportion of treated wastewater is used for agriculture," said Marlos De Souza, an official with the Land and Water Division. of FAO.

But an increasing number of countries - Egypt, Spain, the United States, Jordan and Mexico, for example - are exploring alternatives in the face of growing water scarcity.

"Until now, the reuse of wastewater for irrigation has been most successful near cities, where it is available and generally free or low-cost, and where there is a market for agricultural products, including non-food crops," De Souza explained.

"But the practice can also be used in rural areas, and has long been used by many small farmers," he added.

Population growth and economic expansion increase pressure on freshwater resources. The global rate of groundwater withdrawals has risen steadily by one percent annually since the 1980s. And climate change exacerbates those pressures.

Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of freshwater withdrawals globally, and demand for food is expected to grow at least 50 percent by 2050. The demand for water from cities and industries is also on the rise.

However, untreated wastewater contains microbes and pathogens, chemical contaminants, antibiotic residues, and other threats to the health of farmers, food chain workers, and consumers, and it also poses environmental problems.

Technologies and strategies are applied around the world to treat, manage and use wastewater in agriculture, many of them specific to the local natural resource base, the agricultural systems in which it is used and the crops that are being produced, De Souza said.

Translated by Álvaro Queiruga

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