Water for Food and Ecosystems
Louise O. Fresco
(Assistant Director General - Agriculture Department)
4 November 2004, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Although in politics the opposition between agriculture and ecosystems
are often stressed, they are inevitably linked. They use the same resources
- land and water - and are based on the same biological processes -
photosynthesis and biomass production. Agriculture is nothing else but
an ecosystem from which primary and secondary products are appropriated
by humans. The history of agriculture is characterised by a progressive
and increasing control of biological processes for the sake of increased
production of food and other products. During the 20th century, this
has enabled us - on a global scale - to meet the food demands of a more
than tripled world population. Today, agricultural cropland consumes
13 percent of total global evapo-transpiration - of which irrigation
accounts for 1.5 percent. While from total global biomass production,
20 percent is now used by humans.
This achievement has not been realised without its costs. As has been
increasingly stressed over the past two decades, the advancements in
agriculture are inevitably associated with disturbances of natural ecosystems.
This is particularly true in agriculture's use and pollution of available
fresh water resources.
At the same time, the public demand for a sustainable use of our natural
resources has also been increasing. The need to harmonize future food
production and ecosystems through sustainable water management has been
adopted as a common goal in international agreements such as: the World
Water Forum III in Kyoto, the Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development,
the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the RAMSAR Convention. However,
in the intervening years, more emphasis has been placed on water and
sanitation rather than on integrated water management. Finding new ways
for agricultural water use and management to alleviate negative impacts
is essential, not only to maintain the integrity and productivity of
our ecosystems, but also to sustain the conditions under which agriculture
can contribute to food security, poverty alleviation and economic growth.
So how can we successfully implement these commitments for a sustainable
Integrated Water Resources Management for food and ecosystems? Or in
other words: How can agriculture produce food and other agricultural
products and at the same time deliver environmental services such as
protection of watersheds?
This question is particularly relevant in Africa, where
food security and poverty reduction remain our immediate concerns. Recent
research shows that growth in agriculture is the most beneficial for
the poor: a one percent increase in yields results in a decrease of
0.6 to 1.2 percent of people living on less than $1 per day. Hence,
Africa needs to continue to invest in unlocking the potential of its
diversified agricultural systems - in rainfed agriculture, irrigation
and mixed systems.
This challenge to agriculture has local and global implications. Food
production can be used locally or be traded; environmental services
benefit local people as well as the global environment. Local and global
developments need not be opposed but can be synergistic. We should identify
win-win situations linking the local and the global levels through markets
for agricultural products and environmental services. The recent NEPAD
initiative which has chosen agriculture, infrastructure and markets
to address the specific concerns of Africa, should further help in meeting
To exploit the opportunities for harmonizing the needs for food and
ecosystems in future development initiatives, we will need to address
three particular issues in this conference:
The interactions and interdependencies between agriculture
and ecosystems are numerous, location specific and characterised by
the complexity of their biophysical mechanisms. This requires us to
acquire a broader knowledge of these interactions and processes. Two
aspects are of importance here: 1) diversification of food and management
systems that are specifically adapted to the local conditions; and 2)
integration of sectoral and disciplinary knowledge and approaches that
help us to reach a common understanding and to find common solutions.
In making our strategic decisions for development and
the use of natural resources such as water, we need to be guided by
criteria. Attributing the right value to food and environmental services,
above all in water systems that serve multiple purposes, then becomes
an important issue. However, this is not a matter of attributing economic
values alone. Of equal importance is how we can ensure that producers
of food and environmental services are fairly rewarded, and that all
the costs of the use of natural resources are equally shared.
This requires an institutional context that fully embraces
the objectives of sustainability and equity. We need an enabling environment
to achieve coherence in national and international policies, as well
as in local natural resources management arrangements. There are no
easy solutions and they will differ according to country. Whatever the
answer, local stakeholders - above all, farmers and resource users -
and national governments need to be fully engaged.
The mobilization of water resources for agriculture in
Africa is still well below the level of other regions. In Africa at
present only 5 percent of total renewable fresh water resources are
being used, compared with 20 percent for Asia. Likewise, only 7 percent
of total arable land is being irrigated in Africa, compared with 42
percent in South-Asia and 36 percent in East and South-East Asia. There
is thus great potential to address the needs of Africa in food, poverty
reduction and ecosystems. This requires investment in increasing the
productivity of the multitude of irrigated and rainfed systems. Developing
the water resources for multiple services - from agro-forestry to irrigation
to the joint management of aquatic ecosystems will be part of this.
As indicated in one of the five development pillars of NEPAD, the level
of investments required to further develop the water resources in Africa
are considerable; amounting to US $ 37 billion to increase the area
of irrigation from the present 7 percent to 15 percent by 2015.
Water is also crucial for Ethiopia, which has done so much to raise
awareness of water and to mobilize all stakeholders for the protection
of watersheds and their development.
Let me share some of FAO's experiences with you in developing
an ecosystems approach to agriculture, and in applying a productive
services approach to ecosystems.
Applying an ecosystems approach to agriculture means
focusing on its optimization within its ecological surroundings; to
regard the agricultural sub-system as a part of the wider ecosystem.
The context of food production and ecosystems in Africa is characterized
by its rich diversity. It is precisely this diversity that allows agricultural
producers in Africa to increase productivity within the niches of its
natural and socio-economic surroundings. Realising this potential requires
us to adopt a stronger focus in research and development on the specificities
and richness of Africa, by for instance selecting and developing genetic
treats in agricultural crops for the specific environmental and growing
conditions in Africa. The new NERICA rice varieties that improve yields
under upland and rainfed rice growing conditions, as traditionally applied
in parts of Africa, are a welcome example.
At FAO we also apply an integrated approach to natural resources management
that focuses on the multiple services and purposes that are derived
from natural ecosystems. Integration means looking for mutual services
across the "traditional" division of production and environment.
This is what we have learnt since the Rio Summit: that agriculture and
the environment must be synergistic. In our livestock programmes, for
example, we look for interdependencies between livestock keepers and
wildlife reserves. Sustainable management plans for livestock and wildlife
in the buffer zones are accompanied by ways for livestock keepers to
share in the revenues of tourism as a compensation for their sound management
services, and by establishing direct market linkages with the tourism
industry for local livestock products. Also, agriculturalists and livestock
keepers may cooperate in provision of water delivery through wells and
boreholes operated and maintained by the former.
FAO also looks at multi-service and multi-purpose natural resources
management systems in collaboration with IWMI and IUCN. Inland wetlands
in Africa represent rich ecosystems that can perform a multitude of
services: promoting productive livelihoods through the cultivation of
rice, inland fisheries, fibre and other resources, and pasture; and
environmental services in conservation of biodiversity and wildlife,
and water regulation and purification. These services need to be optimized
within the limits of the carrying capacity of the ecosystem. The multiple
users - agriculturalists, pastoralists, environmentalists and fishermen
- must be brought together in a common management arrangement. Unfortunately,
reality is often such that at the policy level the specific problems
and opportunities of wetlands are either ignored or wetlands are designated
as protected areas only. As farmers are already present in the wetlands,
generally without the proper management arrangements, we lose the opportunity
to reconcile the needs for food and ecosystems. Coherency in our cross-sectoral
policies is essential to support collaboration among stakeholders.
The need for coherence applies at national level, between ministries
of agriculture and environment, water and natural resources, but also
in donor policy, and not least between the international institutions,
the Conventions, and UNEP and FAO for example. Similarly, at national
level, cross-sectoral policies need to become visible in national plans,
especially in the PRSPs, where thus far environment and agriculture
are often poorly reflected.
Finally, you may be aware that FAO's member states
have recently adopted the principles on the Right to Food. I consider
the "theme" water for food and ecosystems of this conference
a concrete step towards the realisation of the Right to Food. In fact,
the right to water for food and ecosystems may become an integral part
of the Right to Food.
FAO is very pleased to cooperate with all its partners in this important
conference, and I would like to pay tribute to the Ethiopian government
who has taken such an active role in the preparation and leading of
this conference, and the African Union for its collaboration. I also
would like to thank the Netherlands government for its generous contribution.
Ladies and gentlemen, I wish you all a fruitful exchange of experiences.
Please remember the slogan of this meeting: "Make it Happen!"