WASAG – The Global Framework on Water Scarcity in Agriculture

What can agriculture do about water scarcity?

Agriculture both causes and suffers from water scarcity, but it also holds great potential to contribute to the more efficient and sustainable management of water resources. Water scarcity, sustainable agriculture and food security are all part of a whole and should be addressed as such.

Securing access to water is crucial for achieving food security and improving rural and peri-urban livelihoods. Access can be limited by physical water scarcity (the lack of water of sufficient quantity or quality, over-allocation, economic water scarcity), the lack of adequate infrastructure due to financial, technical or other constraints, or institutional water scarcity (the lack of an appropriate institutional framework or capacities for ensuring the reliable, secure and equitable supply of water).

“Water scarcity can be disastrous locally and lead to social unrest and migration, as we are currently witnessing with migrants risking their lives fleeing from water-scarce areas. Addressing the problem in agriculture requires new thinking – from field to fork, from farmer to consumer.”

Torkil Jønch Clausen, First Chair of WASAG, World Water Council Governor, and Senior Adviser to Global Water Partnership

Yet significant improvements are possible in the ways in which water is used to produce food. For example, the choice of crop, management practices in place, the number and types of animals raised, the irrigation technologies employed, the spatial distribution of production, and social habits (e.g. the distribution and consumption of food, and diet choices) can all reduce overall demand for water in agriculture and protect water quality.

There is a clear need for actions and strategies that holistically address the links between water scarcity, agricultural production, food security and climate change. Appropriate responses will be found not only in the water domain but also in all the agriculture and food sectors – crop production, livestock, fisheries, aquaculture and forestry. Most water is withdrawn at the production stage, but water scarcity can also be addressed along food value chains and by consumers.

Farmers hold solutions to water scarcity, but they need to be supported with appropriate policies, the right mix of public and private investments, and access to knowledge and resources for producing more and better with less water.

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