In a session on water’s role in food security at the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille, the director of the Food and Agriculture Organization, Mr. Alexander Mueller, has just outlined water's role in meeting the world's food challenges in the most graphic way. By 2050, when the global population is expected to reach nine billion, the world will need to produce 60-70% more food  to meet the needs of a larger number of people whose consumption patterns are influenced by higher incomes and increased urbanization. At current rates of water usage in agriculture, that would require an additional 5,500km2 of water. That would mean having to find the amount of water that is stored in Egypt’s Aswan Dam 55 times every year.Climate change  will multiply the climate risks that already make agriculture vulnerable to uncertain rainfall patterns. And most of the exploitable resources are in International basins, making them harder to manage. The world has 263 shared basins and 273 shared aquifers affecting 145 countries (other countries do not have shared basins). To put it in even starker relief, His Excellency Mr. Chen Lei, Minister of Water Resources, People's Republic of China, told us that managing natural resources sustainably-- of which water was one of the most important-- was the greatest development challenge that China had ever faced.
It will not be easy to mobilize more water. Similarly, new land will not be easy to find. As estimated 80-90% of new food production will have to be on existing land. We must increase both land and water productivity.
Daunting? Certainly, it is a huge challenge. But there is a lot that can be done. His Excellency and other speakers noted examples of impressive increases in water productivity from around the world. It takes financial investment. But more importantly, it takes concerted leadership to implement a good plan, one which limits water use in agriculture to safe amounts and provides incentives for farmers to use water productively. When faced with an existential issue on this scale, innovation will accelerate.
Image: Man carrying bundle of rice in the Philippines. Photo © Danilo Pinzon/World Bank