More than three billion people live in agricultural areas with high to very high levels of water shortages and scarcity and almost half of them face severe constraints, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has said.
This was highlighted in the “State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) 2020, a flagship report published on Thursday by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.
“Improved water management, supported by effective governance and strong institutions including secure water tenure and rights, underpinned by sound water accounting and auditing will be essential to ensure global food security and nutrition and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“Achieving the internationally agreed SDG pledges, including the Zero hunger target (SDG2), is still achievable,” it said.
The SOFA emphasised that only by ensuring more productive and sustainable use of freshwater and rainwater in agriculture, accounts for more than 70 per cent of global water withdrawals.
“Available freshwater resources per person have declined by more than 20 per cent over the past two decades globally, underscoring the importance of producing more with less, especially in the agriculture sector, the world’s largest user of water.”
In the report, the FAO director general, QU Dongyu, emphasised that “With this report, FAO is sending a strong message – water shortages and scarcity in agriculture must be addressed immediately and boldly if our pledge to achieve the SDGs is to be taken seriously.
“The inherent characteristics of water make it difficult to manage,” the report notes.
According to the report, “Water should be recognized as an economic good that has a value and a price.
“Customary practices leading it to be treated as free commodity often create market failures.
“A price that reflects the true value of water, by contrast, sends a clear signal to users to use water wisely.
“At the same time, policy and governance support to ensure efficient, equitable and sustainable access for all is essential,” it said.
“Water management plans need to be problem focused and dynamic,” the report highlighted.
According to the report, “paths for action range from investing in water harvesting and conservation in rainfed areas to rehabilitating and modernizing sustainable irrigation systems in irrigated areas.
“These must be combined with best agronomic practices such as adopting drought tolerant crop varieties and improved water management tools including effective water pricing and allocation tools such as water rights and quotas to ensure equitable and sustainable access.
“Water accounting and a must be the starting point for any effective management strategy,” it said.
The report noted that the rural poor can benefit sustainably from irrigation and endorsed its cautious expansion.
It said, “Full fledged water markets involving the sale of water rights are relatively rare.
“However, when water accounting and auditing is well-performed water tenure and rights are well established and the active participation of beneficiaries and managing institutions is promoted, regulated water markets can induce efficient and equitable allocation of water while promoting its conservation.
“Addressing these issues will require investing in modernizing old irrigation schemes, as well as effective policies,” it said.
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