The Rio+20 Conference intends to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development, and address new and emerging challenges.
The preparations for the conference have highlighted seven areas which need priority attention; these include decent jobs, energy, sustainable cities, food security and sustainable agriculture, water, oceans and disaster readiness.
If done right, agriculture, forestry and fisheries can provide nutritious food for all and generate decent incomes, while supporting people-centred rural development and protecting the environment.
But right now, our soils, freshwater, oceans, forests and biodiversity are being rapidly degraded. Climate change is putting even more pressure on the resources we depend on.
Rio+20 intends to rethink how we grow, share and consume our food.
It takes on average 3 000 liters of water to produce the food needed to feed one person for one day. With 7 billion people on the planet in 2011, and an additional 2 billion by 2050, the challenge of feeding the world in a resources-scarce environment has never been so big.
Already today, in an increasing number of regions, the demand for water outpaces available supply, translating into environmental degradation and increased competition among different users.
Agriculture accounts for 70% of the total water used on the planet, and in many countries, for more than 90%.
Yet, food production is not negotiable.
Across the world, agriculture faces complex challenges: producing more food, feed and fibers while using less water and less land; adapting to climate change; contributing to climate change mitigation and clean energy supply; providing rural people with resources and opportunities to live a healthy and productive life; and applying clean technologies that ensure environmental sustainability.
There are many ways to address growing water scarcity for food and agriculture. Technologies and management approaches that raise the efficiency of water use in agriculture must be combined with systematic recycling and reuse of water and better integration between domestic and agricultural water use. Considerable loss and waste reduction can be also obtained in the supply chain: in storage, transportation, food processing, wholesale and retail.
Behavioral changes, especially in diets, and patterns of consumption also influence water demand for agriculture.
The billions of farmers who feed the world must be at the centre of this process of change through appropriate incentives and governance practices. Land and water institutions in particular must respond much more effectively to the needs of farmers. Secure, equitable and reliable access to land and water are essential conditions to ensure sustainable production intensification.
The recent acceleration in large-scale investments in land and irrigation is a positive development, but the impact on food security will depend on transparent allocation mechanisms and accountability, good governance and the recognition of land and water rights for smallholder farmers. Increasing transparency in water allocation and management will be needed, together with well targeted investments in infrastructure modernization, institutional restructuring and upgrading of the technical capacities of farmers and water managers.
Clearly, past sectoral approaches to issues of water, energy and food security are not appropriate anymore.
The awareness of the interactions between food and energy supply, poverty, environment and climate change is increasing, as well as the recognition that water plays a central role in all these issues. Water for food can no longer be tackled through a narrow sectoral approach and needs to consider the overall context in which water management takes place. Biofuel production is at the center of this nexus. It competes for land and water resources and raises food security and environmental concerns. Still, it is a potential solution to improve energy access and mitigate climate change. Countries need to adopt strategies that ensure benefits are captured while the risks are prevented or mitigated.