FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia

World Food Day: Aquatic champions, aid organizations and the food industry unite to raise awareness about water

©Food Bank/Istvan Ruzsa

16/10/2023 , Budapest

Major food security challenges caused by unsustainable water management were presented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Hungarian Food Bank Association and the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture today, World Food Day, in Budapest. Olympic aquatic athletes also joined the water-themed event, which featured water-friendly dishes of the future and the World Food Day convoy – a line of 21 trucks carrying 50 tonnes of food donations for needy families.

Water is essential to life on Earth. Freshwater is not an infinite resource; it’s time to start managing water wisely. Today, 2.4 billion people live in water-stressed countries, and this number is expected to rise sharply in the coming years. Droughts, lack of precipitation and rising temperatures are already taking a toll on Europe. Now, we must start managing water carefully. Both what we eat and how that food is produced affect water. Everyone can make a difference by choosing local, seasonal and fresh foods, wasting less of it – even by reducing food waste – and finding safe ways to reuse it while preventing water pollution.

“Water is a precious natural resource, just like the air we breathe. It is essential for our nurture and agricultural production, which provides life and livelihoods for billions of people around the world,” said Nabil Gangi, Officer-in-Charge for the FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia. “Investment in innovative, efficient water management practices is vital. From governments to individuals, all sectors and spheres need to participate in the change to build together a water-saving and resilient world.”

Today, on World Food Day, a variety of events organized by FAO in over 150 countries across the world are drawing attention to the challenges of food security and sustainable water management.

“World Food Day provides us an opportunity to divert our attention to the greatest challenges of our times,” said Anikó Juhász, Deputy State Secretary of the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture. “In Europe and Central Asia, these include water shortages, climate change, soil erosion, loss of soil microbial diversity, as well as the protection of agricultural land and land tenure issues. To ensure the availability of water and food security, our goal is to make the agriculture sector more sustainable and resilient to weather extremes.”

Due to climate change and growing water shortages, drought-resistant plants such as millets, sorghum, chickpeas, lentils, and sea buckthorn may dominate food production in the region and consequently in our diets. These neglected plants are not only drought-resistant and nutritious but also have the potential to increase the efficiency of agricultural production. To promote their inherent value, the United Nations has declared 2023 the International Year of Millets, highlighting its high fiber content and nutritional value and the fact that it is free of both gluten and lactose.

A water-friendly menu was served at the event, including a sustainable nettle stew with chickpea balls and a sweet climate-friendly millet dumpling.

Water has played a unique role in the lives of the World Food Day event’s special guests. László Cseh grew up in the swimming pool and became a world champion. As the father of a 1-year-old girl, he is increasingly concerned about the future of the planet, the prosperity of future generations and, therefore, the fate of our waters.

Zoltán Szécsi, a three-time Olympic champion water polo player, became a family farmer himself more than ten years ago. That experience gives him a first-hand perspective on water issues in agricultural production.

Leaving no one behind

FAO and the Hungarian Food Bank Association embark on partnerships at more than the level of words. This year, for the eighteenth time, a donation convoy was launched from the heart of Budapest – Hősök tere – towards the warehouse of the Food Bank Association. The convoy of 21 trucks and lorries transported 50 000 kg of food with long shelf life, including canned food, margarine, pasta, rice, instant soup, flour and soft drinks. In the coming days, 13 000 food packages worth HUF 75 million (approximately USD 205 000) in total will be prepared for needy Hungarian families.

“Unfortunately, food waste and water scarcity are phenomena that go hand in hand, which can further increase the difficulties of the needy worldwide,” said Balázs Cseh, the Hungarian Food Bank Association’s president. “When we throw away food, we also waste the water used to produce it, and the work of farmers loses its meaning. The Hungarian Food Bank Association works to track down surplus food at food producers, traders and restaurants, including products close to their expiration date or products with faulty packaging. Every year, we can save 9 million kilos of food from going to waste.”

The companies joining the donation convoy are partners of the Hungarian Food Bank Association: ALDI Magyarország Élelmiszer Bt., Auchan Magyarország, Bio-Fungi Kft., Bonafarm Csoport, Bonduelle Central Europe Kft., Coca-Cola HBC Magyarország Kft., Dr. Oetker Magyarország Kft., FORNETTI, Gyermelyi Zrt., Kifli.hu - online szupermarket, KOMETA 99 Zrt., Közért+ Zrt., Lidl Magyarország, METRO Nagykereskedelem, Nestlé Hungária Kft., Pek-Snack Kft., PENNY Magyarország, Procter & Gamble, Rauch Hungária Kft., Tesco-Globál Áruházak Zrt., Upfield Hungary Kft.

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