New strategies needed to secure food and safeguard ecosystems
Water conference proposes actions to reconcile water needs of agriculture and ecosystems
4 February 2005, The Hague -- Countries should urgently take action to develop integrated policies that reconcile the water needs of agriculture and ecosystems, according to an international conference that ended in The Hague today.
The conference adopted a list of actions to improve the efficient use of water for food production and safeguard ecosystems.
Twenty-six ministers and more than 600 delegates from 140 countries attended the 5-day meeting on "Water for food and ecosystems", jointly organized by the government of the Netherlands and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
HRH the Prince of Orange reported from a ministerial meeting that was held during the conference that ministers have made a political commitment to consider rural water management as the cornerstone for rural development; and to support and implement programmes and activities for rural development and integrated water management.
"To reverse the declining trend in finance for sustainable agriculture, investments have to be made in sustainable intensification of agriculture," HRH Prince Willem Alexander added. "Investments in water for food and ecosystems are directed to economize the use of water as a scarce resource, to make people aware of limitations in water use and the need to cooperate to share water," he said.
"We have committed ourselves to make the Millennium Development Goals a reality by 2015," said Cees Veerman, Minister of Agriculture, Natur and Food Quality of the Netherlands. "Water management is an essential part of the efforts to reach these goals. Agriculture, ecosystem conservation and water management are not separate sectors, they are closely interwoven. We must roll up our sleeves in a concerted effort to establish rural water management around the globe."
The conference called upon countries to harmonize legislation and policies in water for food and ecosystems. An equitable water use should be achieved between agriculture and ecosystems to ensure an adequate access to water, in particular for the poor.
Each country should decide which incentives should be introduced to use water more efficiently. For this purpose, countries should bring interest groups from different sectors, such as agriculture, industry and the environment together and develop a strategic water plan to place value on national water resources and define water allocations.
"The tragic paradox of water is that water is a truly valuable resource of which the true value is often invisible," said Louise Fresco, head of FAO's Agriculture Department. "We do need to solve this paradox and move towards a true valuation of water, through a mechanism that goes beyond its economic value to include social equity and environmental values."
There was a general agreement among the participants on the need to move towards managing water in a way that better reflects its value. Valuing water should take into account socio-economic, environmental concerns, basic human rights and cultural factors.
Economic mechanisms could be used to put a 'price tag' on water for food and ecosystems (forests and wetlands, etc.) through water charges and payments for environmental services.
However, attention should be paid to ensuring equitable and fair access to water resources and the ability of the poor to pay for water consumption. Farmers, especially women, should have access to credits for investments in water technology for agriculture.
Countries should urgently launch national awareness-raising campaigns to stress the idea that water is a valuable and scarce good. It was agreed that without awareness-raising, it would be very difficult to receive public support for a new economic approach towards valuing water and a more efficient water use.
Strong national, regional and local water institutions should be established to transfer knowledge of traditional and modern water harvesting technologies through guidelines, training and research.
Public/private partnerships could stimulate research and development for technologies for the re-use of wastewater, low-cost drip irrigation and treadle pumps. There is a market for both high tech and low-cost technologies to improve agricultural productivity and there should be incentives for the private sector to access these markets. At the same time, it is in the public interest to ensure quality production of such equipment.
The conference requested FAO to take a lead in informing countries on good practices on how to reconcile the water needs of agriculture and ecosystems.
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