July was the hottest month on record in the U.S. and with it the price of maize jumped 23 percent. According to very rough estimate made in a blog from the Wall Street Journal, this means just $33 more at the register next year for the average U.S. grocery shopper. But it means much more for poor people in developing countries, who already spend up to 60 percent of their income on food.
Why the surge? Well, a combination of low rainfall and high temperatures during the growing season means fewer crops and higher prices. Even with well-planned irrigation infrastructure and good policies, food production is not ultimately guaranteed. Productivity in water management becomes crucial in order to maintain food supplies under extreme dry conditions.
To prevent large-scale drops in food production, countries need to be able to take stock of water resources and know how productively those resources are used. To build resilience in the long run, they need to implement water efficiency, storage, and conservation measures. But with rainfall so variable, it is hard to know when, where, and how to invest in better water management. Countries that don’t have enough water in one year or every year need to import foodstuffs and need to trust the world’s food trade system.
This week, global water and agriculture experts are meeting at World Water Week in Stockholm to take stock of the best current knowledge and the most promising ways forward. On Thursday, August 30, World Bank is co-convening—along with the Swedish International Water Institute (SIWI) and King’s College London—a workshop focused on the links between trade and food security within the context of water resources. The agenda includes discussions on the need and rationale for an expansion of trade, variation between countries in terms of technologies, and governance capacity to produce, process and market agricultural commodities.
In support of multi-sector solutions that work at the nexus of food and water, the World Bank is also doing its part. For example, the Water Partnership Program (WPP) is helping countries including Uganda, Mali, Nigeria, and Brazil to promote growth by investing in improved agricultural water management. Analytical work is supporting more productive uses of water at the farm level to increase food production from better water management in rainfed agriculture and through irrigation based on wastewater reuse. The WPP is also supporting efforts that will help restore the Aral Sea in Central Asia, and is piloting a water rights system in China based on remote sensing technology and evapotranspiration (ET) measurements that is the first of its kind. See the WPP’s 2011 Annual Report for more information.
Photo credit: Woman fetches water at a borehole in the village of Bilinyang, near Juba, South Sudan: (c) Arne Hoel, World Bank.