Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

16 October 2023

World Food Day

Governments need to acknowledge the crucial role of water for sustainable development, look at the overlapping crises of water, food, energy, biodiversity, climate, and health, and prioritize the need for an integrated management of precious water resources.  

Water needs to be a top priority on the political agenda across all sectors and all three dimensions - social, economic and environmental - of sustainable development, with focus on synergies of Water-Energy-Food-Environment nexus. Opportunity exists in co-creating and co-advocating solutions and accelerating action with stakeholders, while at the same time acknowledging that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. 

Governments need to invest in water tenure assessments to ensure all people are able to access water and that they have legal security in doing so. Innovative satellite technologies such as FAO’s WaPOR, offer cost-effective opportunities to monitor agricultural water productivity at different scales. Increased knowledge leads the way to effective solutions to local water challenges.

Governments need to develop National Water Roadmaps and strategies, linking water to agriculture and all other sectors. They need to hold country-led multisectoral dialogues to build the basis of and consensus on the National Water Roadmaps. FAO supports Members in developing these Roadmaps, which highlight the key role of water in achieving all SDGs.

Governments need to prioritize watershed management approaches to agriculture, where freshwater systems and their fisheries, forestry, and agriculture services, are managed collectively to minimize trade-offs and leave no one behind.

Sustainable aquatic foods systems and water management play an important role in helping make communities more resilient and addressing the impacts of climate change. Governments can work to ensure that policies for the sustainable management of aquatic food systems protect dependent communities and safeguard physical, economic and institutional access to and availability of aquatic foods.

Water losses can be reduced through targeted investments in infrastructure modernization for irrigation systems that are more productive and less damaging for the environment, better water management and by increasing crop productivity through the use of higher yielding, nutritious crop varieties.

Not only does sustainable soils management improve soil health, but it can also increase water moisture in soils and water retention on land and improve water availability for crops and biodiversity, while preventing erosion, conserving biodiversity and reducing agricultural pollution. In a changing climate, it provides nature-based solutions to both water scarcity and flooding.

Governments need to incentivize farmers, fishers and the private sector to produce food sustainably by preserving biodiversity, natural resources including waterways and safeguarding the ocean and restoring ecosystems, while reducing pollution, food loss and waste. This can generate significant and immediate gains in local fisheries, and help conserve biodiversity, while generating co-benefits for agriculture, forestry and water resources.

Targeted investments and incentives are needed to scale up solutions including technologies, effective irrigation, wastewater treatment and reuse, circular economy approaches and sustainable soils management. Governments need to provide innovators with incentives to identify the best technologies to meet water challenges. This also includes supporting the stocktaking of existing good practices of local, traditional and Indigenous People's knowledge.

Governments need to help communities and businesses to build resilience to cope with the impacts of extreme weather events by adopting a proactive drought management approach through policies, strategies and action plans that are implemented before, during and after a drought event. This requires capacity development in drought policy, emergency preparedness and response.

Farmers, including men and women, Indigenous Peoples, boys and girls, need to be equally and inclusively engaged and enabled to become effective guardians of our freshwater resources. They need to be actively involved in all steps and phases of policy, planning and programming and empowered with the right training, incentives, innovation and technologies.

Foodborne illnesses are often a result of consuming food contaminated from poor-quality water. Governments need to address water quality and food safety risks at farm-level through techniques including Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS), to track the path of pathogens from water to food and prevent food contamination at its source. This could contribute to greater consumer protection, trade facilitation and food and nutrition security.

Create an enabling environment for the use of non-conventional waters, such as the use of safe treated wastewater for agriculture, by setting appropriate legislations and regulations, and enabling financing mechanisms to upscale innovative technologies for a circular economy.

Social protection is a positive investment for economies, even low-income countries, and if managed well, it can mitigate the costs and impacts of extreme weather. It provides security, promotes livelihoods, and helps address economic, social, and environmental vulnerabilities to food insecurity and poverty. Ensuring equal access represents a long-term investment for an inclusive future of economic growth and diminished government dependency.