Land & Water

Sustainable water management requires innovative solutions

The "International symposium on the use of nonconventional waters to achieve food security", co-organized by FAO and the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPA), was held in Madrid last 14-15 November.

The meeting brought together experts from around the world to discuss the use of nonconventional waters and share experiences on wastewater reuse, the use of desalinated water, rainwater and fog harvesting and cloud seeding, among other innovative initiatives.

"We can't waste water. We need to recycle it, we need to reuse it and we need to use less water in the agricultural sector," said René Castro, Assistant Director-General of FAO's Climate, Biodiversity, Land and Water Department at the opening ceremony of the Symposium.

During his speech, Castro recalled the expectations of global growth in the use of desalinated water, the possibilities of storing rainwater for future use, especially in agriculture, and the increase currently experienced by fog water harvesting, both for consumption and for use in food production.

He also underlined the long road ahead: "It is estimated that more than 80% of wastewater worldwide - more than 95% in some developing countries - is released into the environment without treatment, making water unsuitable for various uses because of its poor quality.

Danielle Gaillard Picher, Vice-President of the Global Framework for Water Scarcity in Agriculture (WASAG), stressed that water scarcity is one of the main challenges of the 21st century and highlighted the important role of women in agriculture, especially in the management of water resources.

"I would like to emphasize that one of those nonconventional resources is women. Women in innovation, women in decision-making and leadership and women farmers," she remarked.

Gaillard presented the example of Senegal where women make up 70% of the agricultural labour force and produce 80% of the crops. "Women are essential for the development of the rural economy," she concluded.

Aina Calvo, Director of the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) recalled during her speech the firm commitment of the Spanish cooperation in the fight against hunger and the important role of agriculture and water management in this commitment. 

"As a development agency, our obligation is to support public policies in the partner countries we work with and who promote this essential link between water, food and energy".

The Undersecretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, María Dolores Ocaña, highlighted the use of nonconventional waters in agriculture in the face of climate change.

Ocaña underlined the need that in the current context of climate change, the development of irrigation policy has to be done in coherence with the challenges posed by this scenario, and in accordance with the international commitments assumed by Spain in the framework of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement.

Meeting of international experts

The Symposium was attended by experts from institutions such as UN Environment, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Bank, the African Water Facility, the International Water Association (IWA), the Latin American Development Bank (CAF), the Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development of the European Commission (DEVCO), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Jordanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation, the Israeli Ministry of the Environment, the Spanish Ministry for Ecological Transition (MITECO) or the National Federation of Irrigation Communities (FENACORE).

Experts from the academic field from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science (CAAS), the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), CEBAS-CSIC, the Universities of California, Murcia, Valencia, Barcelona, UN University and Hellenic University also attended the symposium.

The private sector was represented by different companies from the water sector such as ABENGOA, Grupo TRAGSA, Resolve Marine Group, SACYR Water Services, SEIASA, SUEZ Agricultura or Water Gen.

The two day Symposium allowed participants to discuss cutting-edge technologies applied to the use of nonconventional water resources and to exchange views on possible collaboration mechanisms between companies, technology providers, governments and other stakeholders to accelerate the necessary transitions in the water sector and the agri-food sector in general. The symposium also addressed the main issues in the areas of financing, regulation, government and local policies.