HLPE – Water and Food Security
Proposed text for the FAO Corporate Response
from the Land and Water Division of FAO
The Land and Water Division of FAO welcomes the selection of the theme “Water and Food Security” by the 40th CFS and believes that the findings of the study will authoritatively contribute to the global discussion and the local solutions that take water issues in its broad context.
Having examined the scoping paper and the contributions that were offered during the online consultation process, we would like to submit the following remarks and suggestions about the paper and the subsequent work.
The literature is rich in studies on water and food security. In the recent past, major efforts have been made on the subject by large groups of researchers and practitioners, which have resulted in a good knowledge base to address the subject. Among these we would like to mention the Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture (2007), the State of Land and Water Resources for Agriculture and Food Security - SOLAW (2011) and the periodic issues of the World Water Development Report. On the data side, the UN-Joint Monitoring Programme on Water Supply and Sanitation and the FAO-AQUASTAT database offer the factual information base needed to provide a global perspective on water and food security.
Yet, the complexity of the water and food security relationship leaves a series of policy-relevant issues unsolved, and we would like to suggest that the study build on the above assessments and push forward the knowledge and understanding of major policy issues which have remained without response and deserve careful scrutiny. A series of topics are proposed below.
The relationship between water and food security is complex for several reasons. The four dimensions of food security offer four different entry points to the relationship with water, and they all need to be considered:
The multiple dimensions and scales of the water scarcity or water security issues add an additional level of complexity to the study. The three dimensions, i.e. physical, institutional and financial, of water scarcity that FAO has defined in its framework programme “Coping with water scarcity” may be an entry point to address this added complexity. It will be important to distinguish between the ‘macro’ issue of managing a limited resource (the physical scarcity), and questions related to food production potential, resource use efficiency, addressing competing sectoral claims, macroeconomics, social protection systems, virtual water, etc., and the ‘micro’ issues related to water service and access, where issues of domestic water, access, entitlement, equity, rights, etc. are predominant.
These problems are well known to the FAO Land and Water Division, and our response has usually been to acknowledge the variety of situations through a multi-dimensional programme focusing on a series of specific issues. The ‘systems at risk’ approach used in FAO’s ‘State of land and water resources for food and agriculture - SOLAW’ reflects the variety of specific situations and the need to adapt our response to these contexts.
Another consideration refers to the importance to acknowledge the driving forces guiding the use, management and governance of water. It is well established that water ‘flows’ across all the sectors of our economies and is affected by a series of external factors of which the most frequently mentioned are population growth and urbanization, economic development and consumption habits, changes in dietary habits, trade and globalization, sectoral policies and climate change. Water is known to have also been impacted by all the major crises such as those in global economy, energy, food, poverty and inequity. It therefore becomes increasingly difficult to address water issues through a sectoral lens only without considering the overall context in which water is managed. In particular, the overall weight of agriculture in national economies influences substantially the type of policy response options that can be proposed. This is striking, for instance, in countries in economic transition for which the water-food security issue is rapidly being integrated in a much more complex and multi-dimensional policy dialogue.
In summary, we believe that the main challenge of this study will be to come out with findings and recommendations that are sufficiently simple to help influencing action, while being sufficiently context-specific to ensure their relevance for decision making. Following Einstein, we would suggest that ‘Everything must be made as simple as possible. But not simpler’. In this perspective, we would welcome an approach that focuses on what we see as critical issues for the future of the water and food security topic:
Finally, we would like to offer a few comments and suggestions on the scope and structure of the report:
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