Land & Water

New FAO Land and Water Discussion Paper “Water productivity, the yield gap, and nutrition. The case of Ethiopia”

Food system transformation is needed to address the hundreds of millions of people without adequate access to water or food for a healthy life. Nutrition and malnutrition are inextricably linked to water for food, sanitation, hygiene. With 30 percent of the world’s population living in water-stressed environments, the impacts of water scarcity and malnutrition are expected to affect half of the world’s population, and we need a strategy to assist farmers to produce staples for basic food security while, at the same time, increasing the production of high-value and nutrient-dense crops. 

Achieving SDG 2 “End hunger and all forms of malnutrition” is a vital and urgent task. To satisfy the increased demand and unmet needs for food, the harnessing and productive use of available water, together with other resources, must improve. With an erratic rainfall pattern and high rates of evapotranspiration, which are amplified through global warming, the management of water, from the rains to the drains, are key challenges to increase and stabilize crop yields at reasonable levels.  An improved management of water, for increased efficiency and productivity, is therefore one of the pre-conditions for the achievement of SDGs 1 (no poverty), 2 (end hunger and all forms of malnutrition), 3 (good health and well-being) and 6 (water use efficiency) which are the focus of the new FAO Land and Water Discussion Paper “Water productivity, the yield gap, and nutrition. The case of Ethiopia”.

This report investigates the relationship between water, food security and nutrition using data from Ethiopia on yield, water productivity, and the macro and micronutrient contents of food. Like other countries in Africa and elsewhere, Ethiopia is challenged by erratic rainfall and dry spells. With limited capacity to cope with risks, smallholder farmers concentrate on staple crops, chiefly maize, teff, pulses and oilseeds. Low yields, low water productivity and a lack of diversification of cropping patterns have severe consequences for food security, nutrition and livelihoods.

It is argued that higher yields - of both staple and nutritious crops - are possible, and that water management is a key issue. Efforts to enhance water productivity can and must be linked to the promotion of healthy diets. Nutritious food on the plate must first be produced in the field.  Better coordination and timing of water and other inputs, notably fertilizers and improved seeds, is likely to enhance productivity - with available resources - and to reduce the threats of a further encroachment of agriculture into other ecosystems.

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