Re: The e-Consultation on Hunger, Food and Nutrition Security

Elin Weyler Stockholm International Water Institute, Sweden

Input for from Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) to the e-consultation on Hunger, Food and Nutrition

Hunger, Food and Nutrition are prerequisites for people’s livelihoods, sustaining life, and prosperity. A child that goes hungry will not assimilate knowledge, will not thrive as a human or become a contributing member of whichever society it belongs to. However, a child that is thirsty will not even feel hunger because thirst is a more urgent need. A child that feeds will stay hungry if it is plagued by diarrhoea, cholera or other infectious diseases that could be prevented by access to safe water and sanitation.

The same way that arable land and seeds are a prerequisite for food production, so is water. The water distribution across the globe in changing due to climate change, irrigation schemes, energy demands and crop choices. In order to feed a growing population we will have to consider water in whichever targets we set. The causes behind food insecurity may be assessed by looking at the three A’s:

  • Availability; production of food and its physical availability in various places – mediated by weather & climate, land use / agricultural methods, transport and storage infrastructure
  • Access, including how households and individuals are able to get hold of food – mediated by poverty, education, and cultural/social power to command resources
  • Absorption, including the ability to absorb food – mediated by health conditions, in turn mediated by water, sanitation and hygiene conditions.

As organisers of the World Water Week, SIWI, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR) as key collaborating partners, focused on Water and Food Security as overarching theme for the 2012 conference. Over 2500 water experts, attended over 200 sessions organized by over 250 convening international organizations to discuss the precarious challenge of feeding a thirsty world. The conclusions from each session and workshop are found on For the format of this discussion, let us here present some of the main overarching conclusions that address the questions in the scope. The full report from the 2012 World Water Week is available here:


Theme 1


Setting new priorities for a water and food secure world

Over the past half-century, dramatic improvements have been made to increase the quantities of food produced. Today, we feed more people than ever before, but we also leave more people hungry and send more food to waste than any time before in our history. Moving forward, focus must be on resource efficiency, effective distribution to the hungry and sustainable stewardship of water, land, and lifesupporting ecosystems. Large scale investments in agricultural research and development, infrastructure, irrigation and supply chain efficiency improvements, coupled with dramatic reductions in losses in the field and consumer waste will yield major returns. Providing farmers with better access to markets, both locally and internationally, is likewise crucial to support smallholders’ livelihoods and ensure the food they grow is beneficially used.

This will require a radical shift towards a smarter, healthier, more rational and sustainable global food system. There are many barriers that can delay action, such as a potentially unfavourable political economy, vested interests and bureaucratic inertia, which must be overcome. But the challenges faced to feed an increasingly thirsty world are outmatched by the opportunities they present to stimulate economic growth and provide for a healthier population. With commitment to coordinated action taken on a number of fronts, we can ensure that water will not be a limitation for future well-being on our planet and that everyone has access to clean water and sufficient nutrition to enjoy a sustainable diet.

Water and food security are inseparable

Land and water are prerequisites for agriculture and farmers are the main custodians of the world’s freshwater. Roughly 70 per cent of global freshwater withdrawals are used in agriculture. There are several areas where major efficiency gains, in terms of water,  energy, human as well as financial resources, can be made, such as producing ‘more crop per drop’, reducing losses and waste in the food supply chain, diversification of agricultural activities and employing a ‘landscape approach’ to development in order to expand food production and maintain ecosystem services. There are a number of other areas for which the convening experts called for increased attention: investment and policy intervention, including the promotion of healthy and sustainable diets, improved early warning systems to agricultural emergencies, wiser and fairer trade regulation, and coordinated approaches to assess trade-offs and maximise synergies between water, energy and food.

Producing more with less

Sustainable intensification of agriculture is critical to meet present and future food demand and will require effective action across a number of strategic areas such as energy efficiency, improving irrigation productivity and expanding the safe re-use of water and nutrient resources.

Investing big in small-holders

There is a huge untapped potential for increasing both the productivity and water efficiency of smallholder agriculture. To realise this potential, it is critical to understand the realities faced by many farming communities that lead to sub-optimal use of resources, as well as high rates of losses.

Fixing the leaks in the food supply chain

FAO estimates that 1.3 billion tonnes of food goes uneaten each year, with significant variation in the levels of losses and waste between seasons, years and between commodities and regions. Investments in improved harvesting, storage, transport and cooling infrastructure can reduce losses significantly. This, coupled with local producers’ increased access to better food processing, packaging and new markets, means that more food will be sold and less lost, providing economic and social benefits to both producer and consumer. The world is hungry because we are wasting food.

Improving early warning and responding to a more turbulent climate

Building resilience to drought, floods and shifts in rainfall through adaptive planning is a critical need for the short, medium and long term. New approaches to develop climate smart agriculture and improve the “hydroliteracy” of rural communities can help poor farmers better withstand the shocks of a more variable climate. These systems also need to be accompanied mechanisms to act quickly to take preemptive action based upon available data.

Safeguarding ecosystems while expanding agriculture

A bundled view of ecosystem services can help optimise strategies to promote food security and ecosystem health. To work at a landscape level, new mechanisms are needed that can engage a broader range of stakeholders in negotiations around the benefits- and cost-sharing of ecosystem services, starting by increasing land-user knowledge of ecosystem processes.

Promoting fair and effective food trade

Food trade is a rational and necessary mechanism for achieving efficient use and better sharing of global water resources as well as socio-economic progress. Increased trade in agricultural commodities can provide opportunities for smallholder farmers but this requires they gain better access to markets and stronger bargaining power within them. This can be facilitated through modern information technology, effective government regulation and access to know-how and appropriate production technologies.

A call for collaboration

The challenges that our world is facing cannot be solved by isolated silo thinking and sectoral sub optimisations. Water plays key roles in agriculture, health, economic development, urbanisation, energy production, international affairs and the fulfilment of human rights.

Land acquisition

Investment in agricultural land by international actors has increased dramatically in recent years, primarily in Africa and Latin America. Investors will need reliable access to water for irrigation of its crops on the purchased or leased land. More attention, besides better safeguarding of local priorities and customary rights to land of indigenous populations, is also needed to ensure the effective and equitable management of both internal and transboundary water resources that will be used on leased lands.


Theme 2


The Sustainable Development Goals must address both process and outcomes by emphasizing equitable, transparent processes (participatory, integrative management) as  well as clear goals and measurable targets in terms human and ecological well-being (sustenance of aquatic ecosystems, energy production, and food security). Along with the increased focus on Public Private Partnerships, there is also the recognition of the importance of standard development to guide corporate water stewardship and allow comparison and communication across sectors.

Renewed national and international investments

As we move from the Millenium Development Goals to new Sustainable Development Goals there is a need for renewed national and international investment in the water and WASH sectors. The Millenium Development Goals have been enormously successful in uniting donor attention and allowing the development community to join forces in meet major global challenges. This suggests that uniting behind a list of concrete targets can have dramatic impacts. There is a continued need to prioritise water investments.

Recognising the real purpose of water use

In the agricultural context this can be measured a variety of ways from the amount of food produced per unit of water (crop per drop), to the economic value of agricultural production per unit of water, to the nutritional value of agricultural production per unit of water.

Supply chain focus

As much as half of the produced in the field is lost or wasted before and after it reaches the consumer. Increasing productivity means developing governance approaches that decrease both pre- and post-harvest losses and increase water productivity.

Defining good governance

In terms of next actions, an important point regards developing a common definition of ‘good governance’. To achieve better governance we need two critical components: 1) Better data and knowledge procurement, sharing, and use; and 2) Involvement of major actors like public sector, private sector, and donor communities.

Innovations strengthen monitoring

Monitoring the results of water governance interventions can be used to improve accountability and will enhance the projects implementation. More effective methods of stakeholder engagement can be done using recent technology in collecting and sharing data. For example, text messaging and crowd-sourcing offer new ways to democratise data collection and spatially-explicit databases and internet portals.

Create incentives to produce more food on existing agricultural lands, and within existing water use

There is potential in improving health, reduce water use and alleviate pressures on the environment by focusing more on nutrition sensitive diets. We are facing dietary challenges in opposing trends in different parts of the world; obesity in some regions and malnutrition in others. Currently 45 per cent of global crop water use goes to animal feed. Inland fisheries and aquaculture are two other vital protein sources for many of the worlds’ poor, particularly when crop fails.

Invest in small-holder agricultural water management to reduce malnutrition/hunger

Small-scale water management technology projects have often been overlooked by investors, although investment costs normally are low while profit margins tend to be relatively high. New business models (e.g. irrigation service providers), investment tools (e.g. the investment visualiser) and specialised insurance products were cited as useful contributions to this trend. Apart from the economic benefits, investments in small-holder agricultural water management also hold substantial benefits for food security. Being able to grow cash crops in the dry season, not only drastically improves the farmers´ economic possibility to buy better food, but it also contributes to a diversified diet. Small-scale agricultural water management thus must be controlled at some level to avoid environmental as well as human health damages. For a future nutrition-sensitive agriculture production to take form it is also essential that wastewater is treated safely and then re-used in the farms. 

Intersection between sub-topics and the benefits or synergies that cross-fertilization can bring to the water sector

The link between WASH and nutrition emerged on several occasions, primarily through a more refined understanding of the connections between WASH, malnutrition and diarrhea; the developing understanding of environmental enteropathy and its growing prevalence amongst the most vulnerable members of a community.

There is a need for a balance of technical, institutional and governance improvements; one without the other will delay progress in meeting development goals and perpetuate business as usual practices. A recommendation is to reach lower levels: to conduct regional dialogues that can lead to improved understanding and deliver more sustainable outcomes.

Feedback on the Global Strategic Framework for Food Security and Nutrition

The consideration of water in the Global Strategic Framework for Food Security and Nutrition, as part of economic and production issues, demographic and social issues are important. Recognition of the right to water is imperative and consideration taken to indigenous peoples. One aspect that might have to be considered in addition is that water will cross borders when land will not. Safe water and sanitation and its importance for nutrition is addressed. The role of water is considered for a sustainable agricultural production and we encourage the framework to expand on the issue under point VI. c) that “the demand for water for agricultural production and for other uses and ways of improving water management”.


Theme 3


Working towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The aggregation of the dialogue at the World Water Week on this issue centered on the need for higher resolution in the revised goals, targets and indicators with respect to equity and non-discrimination. How can the political objectives of these goals be aligned with our need to promote stronger pro-poor investments by government? The water world is addressing this directly through an increasing focus on wealth quintile analysis of WASH coverage and an explicit emphasis on measuring the impact on the poorest in the proposed SDGs targets.

The world in 2050

The young generation of water professionals formulated the most pressing challenges and most promising solutions related to water and food security by 2050 during the World Water Week in Stockholm. A Core Team engaged with other young professionals who attended the conference and through video-interviews and social media inputs from those following the conference remotely, in order to formulate the vision which will be followed by an action plan during 2013.

This vision, although ambitious, is one they think should lead development efforts by stakeholders pertaining to water and food. The young vision has a good message for formulating SDG’s in recognizing that the only way to achieve an ‘ideal world’ is by being adaptive. This means that developing solutions, strategies and approaches, needs to be continuously checked and modified to respond to changing conditions. This is because they see that the only certain thing about the future is uncertainty.

Looking forward to the continued disucssion.


Stockholm International Water Institute and the World Water Week.