Sustainable use of water is of vital importance for our planet. It is fundamental for both production functions and well functioning ecosystems. However, unsustainable water use is common. Population growth and increased use of water per capita put an increasing pressure on the availability and quality of water resources and on the ecosystems which are key to regulation, supply and purification of water. The poor are the first to suffer from this. Often the satisfaction of basic food needs is obtained at the expenses of the natural environment, which in turn threatens the very basis of future food production. This calls for an integrated approach to water resources and ecosystems at the river basin level.

The natural ecosystem plays an essential role in the availability and quality of water. The international community has transformed this increased awareness into commitments to sustainable management of our planet's available natural resources. Today, the questions are no longer whether or why, but rather how we can effectively balance water for livelihoods and for resilient ecosystems in achieving equity, environmental sustainability, and economic efficiency. What we need now is implementation of our commitments.


By identifying best practices and generic lessons the FAO/Netherlands Conference Water for Food and Ecosystems aims to facilitate the implementation of the existing international commitments on sustainable water use in relation to food and ecosystems (see Int'l Commitments). The conference will provide a high-level platform to help governments identify management practices, practical lessons learned and the necessary enabling environments that lead to sustainable water use at the river-basin level and the harmonization of food production and ecosystem management with a view to facilitate implementation. The discussion of the conference is closely linked to the Dialogue on Water, Food and Environment.

Main themes

In order to achieve this goal the conference will focus on the following themes:

  1. Fostering Implementation: Know-how for Action: We need to know more about the complex interactions of water for food and ecosystems. Increased knowledge, reliable information and greater awareness, will help improve the capacity of stakeholders and ensure that sound decisions are made, mostly at local level, on inputs (water quantity and quality), outputs and impacts. Through focussing on best practices, this theme will contribute, in a practical way, to implementing our commitments to effectively balance water for livelihoods and resilient ecosystems. Key questions facing the Conference, therefore, are: a) how to enhance effective stakeholder involvement and b) how to integrate and apply knowledge for managing the intertwined relation between water for food and ecosystems?
  2. A "New Economy" for Water for Food and Ecosystems. Inputs, services and impacts must then be analysed in terms of their social, economic, and environmental values for each stakeholder. The goal is to help all involved stakeholders make well informed, transparent decisions on the allocation of natural resources, and ensure that their decisions are consistent with higher level (national/cross boundary) priorities. This will lead to a new prospect, "a new economy" of Water for Food and Ecosystems. Some key questions include a) how to assess the various positive and negative externalities of water use? and b) How to ensure that the diverse value of water is included in decision making processes by stakeholders?
  3. The Enabling Environment. Finally, promising institutional and managerial arrangements must be adopted at local and national/cross boundary levels to enable sustainable water management for food and ecosystems, equitable representation of all stakeholders in the decision making process, and consistency at all levels. Key questions facing the conference are a) What institutional arrangements and policies help to enable local stakeholders to manage their resources and to accommodate the diverse users and uses of water? b) How can institutions and organizations offer a platform for joint decision making/negotiation involving fishers, pastoralists, rainfed agriculturists, industries, that includes the specific needs of nature and environment?


The Conference will be open to national government delegations and international organizations, on invitation (approximately 350 delegates). It is expected that national delegations will include representatives of ministries of planning, economy, water, agriculture and the environment, who have a crucial role in guiding and contributing to the implementation of effective policies.

Conference process

An Electronic Conferencing Process, an African Pre-Conference and Partner Seminars will nourish the Conference. This will enable all stakeholders, including from the business, public authorities, water boards, NGO's and research communities, to articulate their views on and experiences with best practices and policies. Because of the persistent and severe nature of the water problems in Africa the pre-conference will be held in Addis Ababa.


It is expected that insights and experiences shared at the Conference will find their application in improved actions aimed at implementation at the national, river-basin and local level and reinforce and establish (inter)national Partnerships in Water for Food and Ecosystems. As such, the Conference will also directly contribute to the further development and implementation of related policies and programmes within the framework of the WSSD Plan of Implementation, the FAO, CBD, Ramsar, and other international fora.